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H H S Department of Health and Human Services
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Health Information Technology

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What is health IT?

Health Information Technology, or Health IT, is defined by the HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) as, “the application of information processing involving both computer hardware and software that deals with the storage, retrieval, sharing, and use of health care information, data, and knowledge for communication and decision making.”

A variety of types of tools exists or is in development that can be categorized as tools for health IT. Some examples include:

  • Electronic health record (EHR)/electronic medical record (EMR)
    • ONC defines an EHR as “a real-time patient health record with access to evidence-based decision support tools that can be used to aid clinicians in decision making. The EHR can automate and streamline a clinician's workflow, ensuring that all clinical information is communicated. It can also prevent delays in response that result in gaps in care. The EHR can also support the collection of data for uses other than clinical care, such as billing, quality management, outcome reporting, and public health disease surveillance and reporting.” Healthcare Information and Management Systems (HIMSS) Exit Disclaimer notes that the EHR contains the same information as would be detailed in a paper health record – such as patient demographics, reason for visit, summary or progress notes, medications, allergies, medical history, vital signs, immunization records, and any laboratory or pathology reports – but housed in an electronic format. The EHR can assist with workflow, allow for sharing of patient records among different providers including specialists, and can support care activities such as outcomes reporting or quality management by providing a complete record of a clinical encounter.
  • Electronic dental record (EDR)
    • In the simplest of terms, an electronic dental record is a patient’s dental record (or chart) that is available through an electronic interface. While there is no formal definition of an electronic dental record, they should generally have the capabilities to provide the oral health professional with the capacity for paperless charting for their patients, to include details such as any procedures, diagnoses, clinical notes, x-rays, periodontal charting, soft tissue findings, and restorations and active dental diseases. 
  • Personal health record (PHR)
    • ONC defines the personal health record (PHR) Exit Disclaimer as “an electronic application through which individuals can maintain and manage their health information (and that of others for whom they are authorized)…”. The Kaiser Family Foundation Exit Disclaimer notes that a PHR “allow[s] individuals to collect, view, manage, or share their health information electronically.” A wide variety of different PHR products exist, ranging from online resources available to the general public to those that are available to patients using  a specific clinic or health care system. One such example is MyHeathEVet provided through the Department of Veterans Affairs. This personal health record lets patients track medical and dental treatments and progress. Further, patients can use the portal to renew prescriptions, receive reminders and health education messages, and schedule appointments. While this system continues to evolve, currently, dental notes, not laboratory values and x-rays, are available.
  • Secure messaging
    • ONC defines secure messaging as “the secure and protected transmission of information between patients and their providers, including clinicians and their support staff.” Secure messaging provides patients and providers a method for communication that is similar to email but with additional protections for privacy and security. Secure messaging can give both patients and providers the flexibility to communicate on their own schedules, and ultimately can help provide appropriate information to better manage patient health.
  • ePrescribing
    • Electronic prescribing, or ePrescribing, allows clinicians and patients to use electronic systems to submit, transfer, and order prescriptions. A provider can enter prescription information into an electronic system from their home or office computer and it will be submitted to the pharmacy where it is dispensed and made available to the patient. ePrescribing is defined by CMS in their final regulation 42 CFR Part 423.159 as “the transmission, using electronic media, of prescription or prescription-related information between a prescriber, dispenser, pharmacy benefit manager, or health plan, either directly or through an intermediary, including an e-prescribing network. E-prescribing includes, but is not limited to, two-way transmissions between the point of care and the dispenser.”
  • Practice management systems
    • Practice management systems Exit Disclaimer can be defined as a tool or type of software to help manage day-to-day operations. These systems are often used for financial and administrative functions, and can also be linked with a patient’s health or dental record. Practice management software can help track billing and demographic data, along with appointment scheduling.

The resources below provide further information and background on various Health IT topics:

Developed by the Health Resources and Services Administration as a resource for health centers and other safety net and ambulatory care providers who are seeking to implement health IT.
Health Information Technology Toolboxes help health centers, safety net providers, and ambulatory care providers with electronic and online resources and technical assistance to improve patient care.  More>
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