Health IT Terms

Below are some of the most commonly used terms in health information technology with a brief explanation of each term and the technology that goes with it.

Electronic Prescribing

Have you ever seen your health care practitioner send an order for a prescription medication to the pharmacy by computer? That's electronic prescribing (e-prescribing) in action.

With e-prescribing, a practitioner enters your prescription into a computer database. The order for the medication is then sent over a secure network to your pharmacy, which can fill it immediately.

E-prescribing offers several advantages over phone, fax, and paper methods of transmitting prescriptions.

  • It can save time, because your pharmacist can find out if you need a prescription filled right away, rather than making you wait until after you drop off your prescription slip.
  • It can save you money, because the e-prescribing system may suggest to your health care provider an alternative drug that costs you less under your health plan coverage. You and your provider can discuss the suggested alternatives while you are in the provider's office, before the prescription is sent to the pharmacy.
  • It could be safer because the e-prescribing system may be able to check whether a new drug interferes with any other medications you are on. Also, there is no risk that your pharmacist might misread a hastily scribbled prescription slip and give you the wrong drug.

Under a federal grant secured by U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, VITL has been helping dozens of Vermont physician practices to start using e-prescribing. VITL has also helped about a dozen independent Vermont pharmacies to begin accepting e-prescriptions from physician practices. Almost all Vermont pharmacies can now receive e-prescriptions and it is becoming more common for Vermont physician practices to send prescriptions to pharmacies electronically.

The short video below explains how Vermont patients and their health care providers are benefitting from the expanded use of e-prescribing.


Electronic Health Records (EHRs)

Your health care provider keeps a record of the health care you have received (sometimes called a "chart") in his or her office. If you're hospitalized, your hospital also keeps a chart. In the past, charts were mostly kept on paper. However, as computers are now being used more often to assist health care providers, more and more charts are being stored on computers. An electronic health record (EHR) is, at its simplest, a digital version of those charts.

Digitizing a paper chart has several advantages, including allowing your provider to easily learn if you are due for preventive screenings or a checkup, so you can be notified and asked to make an appointment.

But an EHR can go far beyond being an electronic version of your chart. It can be linked over a secure connection to a hospital, lab, pharmacy, or other health care providers. This enables your health care provider to receive electronic information about lab tests, prescriptions, and other care that you have received in other locations. The incoming information can be easily stored in your electronic chart so that your provider can have a more complete picture of your health.

Today, a growing number of doctors and hospitals use EHRs — and more are converting to these systems every day. EHRs are growing in popularity because they can be safer and easier to use than paper, and in part because the federal government is giving doctors and hospitals incentives to use them to improve care. VITL is assisting Vermont health care providers in making the transition from paper charts to EHRs.

Health Information Exchange (HIE)

Health information exchange (HIE) is the movement of health information electronically from one health care provider to another. For example, a hospital may send the results of your lab test electronically to your primary care provider's EHR, rather than the previous methods of faxing or courier delivery of paper printouts.

Exchanging health information is important in order to make sure that your health care providers have access to the most up to date information about you so they can make more informed decisions about your care. HIE can improve the coordination of care for a person who is seeing multiple providers by enabling providers to share important health information.

VITL operates the statewide Vermont Health Information Exchange, which connects hospitals, physicians, and other health care providers. Currently, the Vermont Health Information Exchange is being used to move health information from one place to another, much the way fax machines used to do the same thing. Except the information is in digital format and it can be added a patient's electronic health record without having to be retyped, thus helping to reduce human error. Eventually, the Vermont Health Information Exchange will be used by authorized health care providers to search for and view health information available at multiple locations.

Personal Health Records (PHRs)

A personal health record (PHR) is a lot like an EHR, except that the patient sets up the PHR and controls the flow of  information into it and out of it. You don't have to wait for your doctor to build an electronic system into his or her practice to use a PHR. Your insurer or employer may already offer a PHR for you to use. You can also create a PHR through other software and online services.

Much like the EHR, the PHR can be an electronic storage center for your most important health information, such as:

  • emergency contacts
  • allergies
  • illnesses or conditions
  • medications
  • immunization dates
  • lab and test results

Your PHR may also have its own "apps" – programs that are used on smartphones – that can help you improve your health by linking with other devices such as a web-enabled digital scale or pedometer.

Ideally, you should be able to link your PHR with your doctor's EHR, making it a personal health care "hub," although most doctors may not be technologically ready for this quite yet. PHRs can be maintained in a variety of formats, such as a USB "memory stick" or on a password-protected Internet site.

The advantage of a PHR is that it's all about you. You decide whether to create one in the first place, and what to put in it. Most of what you do for your health occurs outside the doctor's office and you can use your PHR to record that information. You can include:

  • Over-the-counter medications
  • Exercise habits
  • Sleep patterns.

It can even reflect your preferences and values on sensitive issues, such as end-of-life care. It's yourrecord: you know better than anyone else what your record should contain.

For more information about PHRs, check out this video on PHRs and these resources.