Over the past several years, the U.S. healthcare industry has been undergoing major changes, one of which is the transition from paper to digital record keeping by hospitals, doctor’s offices, clinics and nursing facilities. The federal government and health organizations have invested billions of dollars to fund the hardware, software and training necessary to complete the changeover.
The mandated switch to electronic records has garnered plenty of news coverage, with stories about electronic health records (EHR) and electronic medical records (EMR) peppering both medical and mainstream publications. The terms are often used interchangeably, which can lead to confusion. However, there are distinct differences between EHR and EMR.
What are Electronic Medical Records?
An electronic medical record (EMR) is a single practice’s digital version of a patient’s chart. An EMR contains the patient’s medical history, diagnoses and treatments by a particular physician, nurse practitioner, specialist, dentist, surgeon or clinic.
EMRs offer several advantages over paper records:
- Better data tracking over time.
- Timely reminders for patient screenings and preventative checkups.
- Improved patient care.
What are Electronic Health Records?
An electronic health record (EHR) is also a digital version of a patient chart, but it is a more inclusive snapshot of the patient’s medical history. Electronic health records are designed to be shared with other providers, so authorized users may instantly access a patient’s EHR from across different healthcare providers.
The benefits of EHRs include:
- Streamlined sharing of updated, real-time information.
- Access to tools that providers can use for decision-making.
- A complete medical history of the patient, from allergies and radiology images to lab results.
How do Electronic Medical Records Differ from Electronic Health Records?
It’s easy to remember the distinction between EMRs and EHRs, if you think about the term “medical” versus the term “health.” An EMR is a narrower view of a patient’s medical history, while an EHR is a more comprehensive report of the patient’s overall health.
Here are a few more ways EMRs and EHRs differ:
- An EMR is mainly used by providers for diagnosis and treatment.
- EMRs are not designed to be shared outside the individual practice.
- EHRs are designed to share a patient’s information with authorized providers and staff from more than one organization.
- EHRs allow a patient’s medical information to move with them to specialists, labs, imaging facilities, emergency rooms and pharmacies, as well as across state lines.
Electronic Records Offer Big Benefits
Both EHRs and EMRs offer benefits to patients and healthcare providers:
- With fast, accurate and updated information, medical errors are reduced and health care is improved.
- Patient charts are more complete and clear – no more deciphering illegible scribbles.
- Information sharing can reduce duplicate testing, saving patients and providers time, money and trouble.
- Improved information access makes prescribing medication safer and more reliable.
- Promoting patient participation can encourage healthier lifestyles and more frequent use of preventative care.
- More complete information means more accurate diagnoses.
Electronic records are expected to make healthcare more efficient and less costly, making the switch a good investment for our nation’s healthcare.