Frequently Asked Questions

What are the differences among electronic medical records, electronic health records, and personal health records?

Electronic Medical Records

Electronic medical records (EMRs) are digital versions of the paper charts in clinician offices, clinics, and hospitals. EMRs contain notes and information collected by and for the clinicians in that office, clinic, or hospital and are mostly used by providers for diagnosis and treatment. EMRs are more valuable than paper records because they enable providers to track data over time, identify patients for preventive visits and screenings, monitor patients, and improve health care quality.

Electronic Health Records

Electronic health records (EHRs) are built to go beyond standard clinical data collected in a provider’s office and are inclusive of a broader view of a patient’s care. EHRs contain information from all the clinicians involved in a patient’s care and all authorized clinicians involved in a patient’s care can access the information to provide care to that patient. EHRs also share information with other health care providers, such as laboratories and specialists. EHRs follow patients – to the specialist, the hospital, the nursing home, or even across the country.

Personal Health Records

Personal health records (PHRs) contain the same types of information as EHRs—diagnoses, medications, immunizations, family medical histories, and provider contact information—but are designed to be set up, accessed, and managed by patients. Patients can use PHRs to maintain and manage their health information in a private, secure, and confidential environment. PHRs can include information from a variety of sources including clinicians, home monitoring devices, and patients themselves.

For More Information

See the following resources for more information:

EHR Basics for Providers

EMR vs EHR – What is the Difference?

What is electronic prescribing?

With electronic prescribing, or “e-Prescribing,” health care providers can enter prescription information into a computer device – like a tablet, laptop, or desktop computer – and securely transmit the prescription to pharmacies using a special software program and connectivity to a transmission network. When a pharmacy receives a request, it can begin filling the medication right away.

The Benefits of e-Prescribing

e-Prescribing can:

• Help improve health care quality and patient safety by reducing medication errors and checking for drug interactions

• Make care more convenient by allowing providers to electronically request prescription refills

In short, e-Prescribing is more convenient, cheaper, and safer for doctors, pharmacies, and patients.

What is a patient portal?

A patient portal is a secure online website that gives patients convenient, 24-hour access to personal health information from anywhere with an Internet connection. Using a secure username and password, patients can view health information such as:

  • Recent doctor visits
  • Discharge summaries
  • Medications
  • Immunizations
  • Allergies
  • Lab results

Some patient portals also allow you to:

  • Securely message your doctor
  • Request prescription refills
  • Schedule non-urgent appointments
  • Check benefits and coverage
  • Update contact information
  • Make payments
  • Download and complete forms
  • View educational materials

With your patient portal, you can be in control of your health and care.  Patient portals can also save your time, help you  communicate with your doctor, and support care between visits.

For More Information

For more information on patient portals  and how you can use patient portals to become more involved in your health and care, and make the most of your office visit, see the following resources.



What is telehealth? How is telehealth different from telemedicine?

The Health Resources Services Administration defines telehealth as the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration. Technologies include videoconferencing, the internet, store-and-forward imaging, streaming media, and terrestrial and wireless communications.

Telehealth is different from telemedicine because it refers to a broader scope of remote healthcare services than telemedicine. While telemedicine refers specifically to remote clinical services, telehealth can refer to remote non-clinical services, such as provider training, administrative meetings, and continuing medical education, in addition to clinical services.

There are several other ways to define telehealth. See the below websites for further information on telehealth.

World Health Organization [PDF - 3.38 MB]

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

American Health Information Management Association

Why is telehealth important for rural providers?

What is health information exchange?

Health Information Exchange

Health information exchange (HIE) encompasses two related concepts:

• Verb: The appropriate and confidential electronic exchange of clinical information among authorized organizations

• Noun: An organization with agreed-upon operational and business rules that provides services to enable the electronic and secure sharing of health-related information

Electronic exchange of clinical information allows doctors, nurses, pharmacists, other health care providers, and patients to access and securely share a patient’s vital medical information electronically—improving the speed, quality, safety, coordination, and cost of patient care.

What are the benefits of health information exchange?

To better track and securely share patients’ complete medical histories, more and more health care providers are participating in health information exchange (HIE). HIE helps facilitate coordinated patient care, reduce duplicative treatments and avoid costly mistakes. This practice is growing among health providers because the need for HIE is clear and the HIE benefits are significant. A few examples of HIE benefits include1:

  • Improve patient safety by reducing medication and medical errors;
  • Increase efficiency by eliminating unnecessary paperwork and handling;
  • Provide caregivers with clinical decision support tools for more effective care and treatment;
  • Eliminate redundant or unnecessary testing;
  • Improve public health reporting and monitoring;
  • Engage healthcare consumers regarding their own personal health information;
  • Improve healthcare quality and outcomes; and
  • Reduce health related costs.


  1. Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS). “Evaluating a Potential HIE Opportunity [PDF - 100 KB]”, HIMSS Guide to Participating in HIE. 2009 November.

What is the Blue Button?

“Blue Button” is shorthand for a movement toward an improved healthcare system in which patients and providers use information technology to collaborate and improve health. The Blue Button logo signifies that you—as an individual consumer or patient--can get easy, secure access to your own health information in a format you can use. To “Blue Button” is a verb, meaning, for a consumer, “download my health data so I can use it.” As Americans, we each have the legal right to access our own health information held by doctors, hospitals and others that provide health care services for us. But many of us don’t, either because we don’t know we can, or because we’re not sure what to do with it. Until recently, most medical information was stored in paper files, so it wasn’t very easy to access or use anyhow. But all that is changing.

As America’s health care system rapidly goes digital, health care providers, insurance companies and others are starting to give patients and consumers access to their health information electronically through the “Blue Button”. Blue Button information can be lifesaving in an emergency situation, can help prevent medication errors, and can improve care coordination so everyone who is caring for you is on the same page. As a result of Blue Button, many patients can now electronically access the vital health information they need to keep track of their medicines, chronic conditions, and laboratory results. They can securely access and download that information and share it with people they trust. Increasingly, they can also plug it into apps and tools that help them to better understand their health, prevent illness, and modify their own behaviors in healthy ways. Study after study shows that engaged patients recover more quickly, and stay healthy longer. Blue Button includes a vision for better health and health care and a specific “action” consumers can take—download your own health information and use it! Blue Button is also becoming a movement. Won’t you join us?

Is Blue Button a specific technology?

No, but it used to be. Blue Button started as a simple-as-it-gets text (ASCII) file. But that was only the start. As more organizations adopted the Blue Button and more patients used it, it became apparent that there was a need for more – and more complex – ways of downloading and transmitting data.

Adding Portable Document Format (PDF) formatting for Blue Button downloads happened quickly. Organizations offering Blue Button were also encouraged to experiment with other formats, including the industry’s HL7-based Continuity of Care Document (CCD) and other XML-tagged formats – so long as the human-readable ASCII and .pdf formats remained available to users.

As of September 2012, Blue Button is no longer constrained to mean a text or PDF format– so long as consumers can view, download, and print their health data. In the near future, we expect consumer access to health data through the Blue Button will also include the ability for consumers to be able to also transmit their health data and have it available in both human and machine readable format. Importantly, however, organizations that provide the more basic "Blue Button" —through ASCII text or PDF files--are not discouraged from continuing as before. Rather, they are encouraged to build on and evolve the technical capability they have. The Button has become a recognized brand that signifies consumer access to and use of electronic health data. We hope that organizations will continue to build on and evolve the technical capability they have available for patients.

What Privacy and Security laws protect patients’ health information?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification Rules are the main Federal laws that protect health information. The Privacy Rule gives you rights with respect to your health information. The Privacy Rule also sets limits on how your health information can be used and shared with others. The Security Rule sets rules for how your health information must be kept secure with administrative, technical, and physical safeguards.

See the following web page for further information: