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EMR vs. EHR: Is There a Difference?

By: Nathan Brown | March 9th, 2021

EMR vs. EHR: Is There a Difference? Blog Feature

When it comes to Electronic Medical Records (EMR) and Electronic Health Records (EHR), there has been some confusion as to just what these terms mean. This has led some to mistakenly use these two terms interchangeably, when they are in fact not the same and have different definitions and features. To help our readers better understand how to differentiate between them, this blog will provide an overview of EMR vs. EHR.

What is an Electronic Medical Record (EMR)?

Of the two, EMR is probably the term with which most people are already familiar. In the early days of Electronic Health Information (EHI), EMR was the standard term. But what is it? Based on the full definition from HealthIT.gov, 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.”

To put it more briefly, an EMR is a digital version of a patient chart that exists in a single practice. It contains such information as medical history, diagnoses and treatments as made by a specified physician, nurse practitioner, surgeon or clinic. In comparison to EHR, however, it has some limitations.

What is an Electronic Health Record (EHR)?

EHR has become the more commonly used term in recent years, and rightfully so. Most EHI is now viewed in EHR systems (as opposed to EMR), which are similar to EMRs but go much further as far as interoperability. Again taking a definition from HealthIT.gov, 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.”

So, again, let’s break this down in simpler terms. An EHR, like an EMR, is a digital record of a patient chart. However, it is far more than just a collective view of a patient’s medical information. EHRs are designed so that they can be shared between providers, offering greater interoperability, allowing authorized personnel to access patient EHRs across different healthcare systems and providers.

What is the Difference?

A general way to remember the difference between EMR and EHR is to remember the fact that “health” (which encompasses a patient’s overall health) is a broader term than “medical” (which deals specifically with diagnosis and treatment). Basically, EHR is a shareable, comprehensive report of a patient’s healthcare data while EMR is mostly just a general overview of a patient’s medical history.

More specifically, the differences between the two are as follows:

  • EMRs are primarily for documenting diagnosis and treatment and are not designed to be shared outside of an individual practice.
  • EHRs are designed to be shared between authorized individuals as well as between multiple healthcare systems.
  • EMRs remain in a practice, while EHRs allow providers to send patients’ medical information as needed to other places such as labs, hospitals and other or new providers.

As time goes on and the emphasis on interoperability continues to become the standard, it is likely we will see use of EHR increasingly overshadow that of EMR. Understanding the difference is important to making sure you acquire the correct products in the future.

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