- Electronic medical records (EMR) are digital patient records and charts, whereas electronic health records (EHR) are that and more.
- EHRs include tools for prescribing medications electronically, ordering labs, streamlining internal and external communications, and sharing data.
- Modern medical software generally includes an EHR, and the term is often used interchangeably with "EMR."
- This article is for medical practice owners who want to understand the difference between EMR and EHR.
In the medical space, "EMR" and "EHR" are common terms to come across. For the most part, these terms are used interchangeably, but did you know they technically refer to different types of medical software solutions? Read on to learn the distinctions between EMRs and EHRs and where these differences might come into play for your practice.
What is the difference between an EMR and an EHR?
Electronic medical records (EMR) are digital versions of the paper patient charts that have long been crucial to medical practices. Electronic health records (EHR) are more comprehensive. They include tools that improve your practice's electronic prescribing, lab ordering and telehealth capabilities.
As such, EHRs make several important medical practice functions available from one interface. With this setup, you can view a patient's full medical history and then immediately pivot to prescribing key medications. You can also communicate within your practice via patient point-of-care tools that record what happens on one day for practitioners working another day to see. EHR interoperability tools also ensure proper communication between separate practices.
In short, EHRs comprise patient charts and the many other tools a practice might use to keep all practitioners and staff alert to a patient's health and billing needs. (Practice management systems, also known as PMS or PM software, can further facilitate appointment scheduling and medical billing.) However, most medical industry professionals use the two terms interchangeably.
Key takeaway: Although you'll often see the terms "EMR" and "EHR" used interchangeably, EMRs are technically more simplistic versions of EHRs.
What is an EMR?
An EMR is the digital equivalent of a practice's paper patient charts and medical records. If your practice implements an EMR system, your platform of choice will contain all your patients' medical data. You'll also be able to pull up an individual patient's chart for analysis before, during or after an appointment. All information stored within your EMR remains available solely to your practice.
Most medical professionals consider EMRs superior to patient charts, since they make tracking a patient's data over time a much easier proposition. Many EMRs can also sync with remote patient monitoring tools to give practitioners real-time medical updates on patients who require more hands-on care. Most EMRs can also scan your charts to identify patients who need checkups, screenings or other appointments. The result is a practice that operates with no gaps.
What is an EHR?
An EHR system does everything an EMR does while positioning your practice for growth and better communication internally and externally. Through an EHR, you can build a continuous, timestamped record of patient care for all your nurses, doctors and other medical staff to reference. You'll also get interoperability tools that enable people outside your practice – including the patient – to access medical data.
The use of an EHR results in a practice that's ready to involve as many people as necessary in a patient's care. EHRs allow you to seamlessly send patient data from your practice to specialists involved in your patient's care. They also ensure that no data gets lost if your patient moves away from your region and needs to find a new primary care doctor. These features make EHRs highly patient-centric, whereas EMRs are more practice-centric.
With EHRs, you can also implement a telehealth program and prescribe medications and lab tests without printing any paper. Should you prescribe medications that could lead to harmful interactions, most EHRs will notify you before you complete the prescription. Without these alerts, you could accidentally put your patients in danger.
Did you know? Most EHR platforms will alert you if you prescribe medications that could interact with something your patient is already taking.
When should you use an EHR vs. an EMR?
Using EHR software today means having an interoperable platform that connects with all points of care a patient might encounter. EHR usage improves the quality of patient care and the overall patient experience, whereas EMR usage may only achieve the former. EMRs are unquestionably an improvement over paper patient charts and medical records, but they only address the gaps in paper records. EHRs, on the other hand, improve the entire patient experience through all the aforementioned features and tools.
Today, regulations from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services have incentivized healthcare organizations to adopt interoperable medical software platforms, which has led to an increase in EHR adoption and reduction in the use of EMRs.
Tip: It's best to use an EHR instead of an EMR. In fact, EMRs have largely been phased out in favor of EHRs, due to government regulations and technological innovation.
Benefits of EMRs and EHRs
These are some of the numerous benefits of EMRs and EHRs for all medical practices.
Clear timeline of patient medical history
Since EHRs and EMRs are fully digital, every entry in them displays an exact date and time. More importantly, these electronic systems can arrange all data chronologically with just a click or two. This function enables your nurses and practitioners to quickly understand the patient's current medical needs and provide appropriate care.
EHRs typically allow the patient access to their own medical data, which is nearly impossible with paper records and still quite difficult with EMRs. This access can come in handy if the patient needs to take some time at home to think about their treatment options for a serious medical issue.
Easier specialist involvement or patient transfer to new facilities
With paper records and EMRs, your patients will need to bring hard copies of their medical records to specialist appointments. The same holds true if your patient switches primary care providers for any reason. EHRs solve this problem: Their interoperability tools get the patient's data into other practices' hands in HIPAA-compliant ways.
Thorough data security
Speaking of HIPAA, all top EHR systems are entirely HIPAA-compliant. Their data safety and security practices meet federal government standards, so you don't have to worry about breaching a patient's privacy as you ensure their comprehensive care. These data safeguards make electronic patient data much tougher for bad actors to access than paper records.
EHR and EMR systems both allow speech-to-text when you're taking notes during patient encounters. This function has numerous benefits, including more accurate charts and streamlined medical billing.
EHR software often includes access to practice management technology as well. Through PMS platforms, you can streamline several front-office tasks, such as scheduling appointments and registering patients. It can improve your medical billing efficiency by giving coders and billers direct access to your clinical data. You can also generate customizable reports to help you improve your practice's financial performance.
Although many medical software providers require you to pay separately for EMR and PMS software, providers such as Kareo include full EMR and PMS access to all paying customers.
No paper clutter or mismanaged records
Paper records just don't cut it in fast-paced, emergency-heavy, high-volume spaces such as hospitals and medical practices. The digital records of both EMRs and EHRs solve this problem. They eliminate paper clutter, and since the practitioner notes are typed rather than handwritten, they're less likely to be misunderstood. At this point, digital recordkeeping is the industry standard.