EMRs vs. EHRs

Keeping track of medical information is incredibly important for an individual’s health care, but it can sometimes be difficult. Whether you are changing doctor’s offices, moving, or seeing a specialist, keeping track of all your information is crucial. Old-fashioned paper records can be misplaced or damaged. Electronic Medical Records and Electronic Health Records are two versions of these electronic medical information can help keep everything in one convenient place. But what difference, if any, is between these electronic versions?

There is only one word difference, but that one word means a lot!

Electronic Medical Records

What is an EMR?

EMR stands for Electronic Medical Record.

"An EMR is a digital version of the paper chart used in clinician offices, clinics, and hospitals." -HealthIT

Providers can use the information collected in an EMR for diagnosis and treatment. An EMR is also particular to each nurse, nurse practitioner, physician, specialist, dentist, surgeon or clinic. One of the greatest benefits of an EMR over a paper record is that data can be tracked over time at that provider. This lets providers monitor patients’ health and alert patients for preventative visits. Patient health can only improve over the long-term with an Electronic Medical Record.

Benefits of an EMR

Compared to a paper copy an electronic version provides:

  • Improved access to patient documentation. Electronic records keep medical information in one place where it can be easily accessed. It also means patients do not need to keep providing personal information and medical history that they have before.
  • Better tracking of patients over time. Patient data from tests and other records can be analyzed in one place by a care provider. This ultimately means more accurate diagnoses and treatments.
  • Security of sensitive data. Electronic records systems like EMRs are designed to be secure and protect the privacy of patients. Only authorized users can access the information kept in an EMR.
  • Reminders for patient screenings and checkups.

Electronic Health Records

What is an EHR?

EHR is a shorter way to refer to an Electronic Health Record.

"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." - HealthIT

An EHR differs from an EMR in that it attempts to build a more comprehensive view of a patient’s medical history and care.

All authorized clinicians involved in a patient’s care can access an EHR, plus it shares necessary information with other providers (such as laboratories and specialists.) An EHR is made to be able to travel with a patient from one provider to the next, even if that means picking up and moving halfway across the country.

Benefits of an EHR

There are many benefits to implementing EHRs. An EHR gives the ability to share a patient’s medical history seamlessly between general practitioners, specialists, labs, hospitals, pharmacies and anywhere else that is authorized to access it. All of the records are updated frequently and feature real-time information. This means that a patient can have an appointment with a specialist and be able to easily share the results of that visit with their general practitioner.

And, compared to paper copies and other electronic versions, an EHR provides:

  • Access to a variety of complex tools that providers can use for decision-making, including E-Prescribing, speech recognition/dictation, advanced reporting and more
  • A complete medical history of the patient, from allergies and radiology images to lab results, across the care continuum. This makes it a simpler process when someone is referred to a specialist or recommended to a new primary care provider.
  • Improved population health data

Differences Between an EMR and an EHR

One word makes all the difference.

First, you can understand the big difference because the word “medical” is more specific, and the word “health” is more all-encompassing. A person's health record means it is a broader, more comprehensive collection of information.

EHRs:

EMRs:

  • Digital record of complete history of health information
  • Digital record of one chart
  • Sharing of updated real-time information with authorized providers
  • Not design to be shared outside of one individual practice
  • Patient can take medical information with them
  • Patient record stays at one practice
  • Access to tools that providers can use for decision making
  • Mainly used by providers for diagnosis and treatment

1. Ease of Sharing

Despite the ease of having everything in a digital record, an EMR is not designed to be shared outside the individual practice/clinic where it is originally produced. By comparison, EHRs are specifically designed to better share a patient’s information with authorized providers and staff from more than one organization.

It doesn’t matter when or where an EHR is started, it becomes a complete history of a patient for any medical need. A patient’s medical information travels with them to different specialists, labs, imaging facilities, pharmacies and more with an EHR system. EHRs provide users with the entirety of a patient’s medical history, regardless of location and across state lines.

2. Use

There are subtle differences in the use of EMRs and EHRs. An EMR is primarily used by providers for diagnosis and treatment. The scope of an EMR is therefore mainly focused on diagnosis and treatment information. EHRs, however, provide in-depth data across a patient’s medical history from a variety of sources. This means anyone new to a patient’s history can be updated quickly and efficiently.

This is especially important if a patient is referred to a specialist or needs to begin seeing a new general practitioner. Anyone unfamiliar with their past medical history can access a complete look at it with an Electronic Health Record.

3. Content

Similar to use, the content of EMRs are restricted in scope to primarily diagnosis and treatment information. A clinic of any size is capable of using an EMR system, which benefits the quick diagnosis and treatment of patients. Even if it is not as comprehensive as an EHR, an EMR greatly improves the health outcomes of patients. The content of EHRs are more varied. EHRs provide in-depth data across a patient’s medical history from a variety of sources. This content is varied, because it can be shared from different specialists, laboratories, and clinics.

4. Certification

An Electronic Health Record, assuming it is Certified EHR Technology (CEHRT), meets meaningful use standards for incentive-based programs administered by the CMS (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services). These meaningful use standards ensure that EHRs be used to improve patient outcomes. EMRs do not have any certifications and may differ from one provider to the next.

Benefits of Both

Electronic records of any type have immensely improved modern medicine for both the patient and healthcare providers in the following ways:

  • With fast, accurate, and updated information, medical errors are reduced and health care is improved. Both EMRs and EHRs prevent information from being lost in the shuffle of paper records. And patients can be certain that they are benefiting the most from their doctor's visits.
  • Patient charts and documents are more complete and clearer overall. One doctor or clinician does not have to worry about deciphering the illegible scribbles of another doctor or clinician and there is always the risk of a paper copy getting damaged or missing pages. This is important whether you are staying at the same practice or meeting a new provider for the first time.
  • Information sharing can reduce duplicate testing, saving patients and providers time, money, and trouble. Electronic records serve as reminders of past tests in a much more concise and easy-to-use way than paper records.
  • Improved information access makes prescribing medication safer and more reliable. EHRs and EMRs enable providers to see the medications a patient might already be taking. It can help prevent dangerous mixing of medications and decreases the abilities of "doctor shoppers" (patients who may be trying to obtain multiple controlled substances from different providers.
  • Promoting patient participation can encourage healthier lifestyles and more frequent use of preventative care. Electronic record keeping systems, such as EMRs and EHRs, give patients the ability to access their own information. They can even engage with their medical history and needs to see what preventative visits or screenings might be necessary. Smart phone applications are also associated with these types of systems, allowing for a patient portal and increased accessibility to records and vital information.
  • More complete and updated patient information means more accurate diagnoses and treatment. A fuller picture, including prior test results, symptoms, and health over time, gives a provider more information before they decide on treatment options. This prevents premature diagnoses or inaccurate treatments.

Conclusion

An Electronic Medical Record, or EMR, is a great system for clinics, clinician offices, and hospitals to keep patient information together in one place. Although it is more limited in scope and content than other electronic systems, it enables providers to track patient data over time. Patient information is in one place for an individual provider to access and check at any time.

EHRs, or Electronic Health Records, offer a broader view of patients’ medical histories. The key point is in the word - “health.” Because it is sharable across different providers, an EHR allows for unique collaboration possibilities that improve the outcomes of an individual’s overall health and wellness.

While these terms can occasionally be used interchangeably, there are subtile differences that can make a large difference. These electronic records have ushered in a new way for patients, providers and the various care teams to interact and increase the quality of care and decrease the cost of care.

Both EMRs and EHRs provide a better space for the collection and maintenance of medical records.

These electronic record-keeping systems prevent the loss of information that can easily occur with paper records. They are more convenient, practical, and secure. The individual differences and benefits of both EHR and EMRs are taking medical records into the 21st century.

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