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Updated Jan 16, 2024


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.

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Max Freedman, Business Operations Insider and Senior Analyst
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This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

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In the medical space, electronic medical records (EMRs) and electronic health records (EHRs) are common terms. For the most part, these terms are used interchangeably. However, they refer to different types of medical software solutions. We’ll explain 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?

EMRs are digital versions of the paper patient charts that have long been crucial to medical practices. EHRs are more comprehensive. They include tools that improve your practice’s electronic prescribing, lab ordering and telehealth capabilities.

As such, EHRs make several essential medical practice functions available from one interface. With this setup, you can view a patient’s entire medical history and 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. However, most medical industry professionals use the two terms interchangeably.

Key TakeawayKey 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 will contain all 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 because they make tracking a patient’s data over time much easier. 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.

Did You Know?Did you know
Medical practice management systems, also known as PMS or PM software, can facilitate appointment scheduling and medical billing further.

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 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.

EHRs are ideal for practices that are ready to involve as many people as necessary in a patient’s care. EHRs allow you to send patient data seamlessly 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 a new primary care doctor. These features make EHRs highly patient-centric while EMRs are more practice-centric.

With EHRs, you can also implement a telehealth program and prescribe medications and lab tests without printing any paper. If 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.

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. In contrast, 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. Meanwhile, EHRs improve the entire patient experience.

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 a reduction in the use of EMRs.

Benefits of EMRs and EHRs

These are some of the numerous benefits of EMRs and EHRs for all medical practices.

1. EMRs and EHRs provide clear timelines of patient medical history.

Since EHRs and EMRs are fully digital, every entry displays an exact date and time. More importantly, these electronic systems can arrange all data chronologically with a click or two. This function helps medical staff understand patients’ current medical needs quickly and provide appropriate care.

2. EMRs and EHRs allow patient involvement.

When you implement an electronic health system, the patient typically can access 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 consider their treatment options for a serious medical issue.

3. EMRs and EHRs facilitate specialist involvement and transfers.

With paper records and EMRs, your patients must 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 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)-compliant ways.

4. EMRs and EHRs boost data security.

Speaking of HIPAA, all top EHR systems provide entirely HIPAA-compliant medical records retention. 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.

Medical device security should be a top priority for your practice. Monitoring and segmenting connected devices properly is crucial as is ensuring regular software updates.

5. EMRs and EHRs include speech-to-text tools.

EHR and EMR systems both allow medical speech-to-text functionality when you’re taking notes during patient encounters. This function has numerous benefits, including more accurate charts and streamlined medical billing.

6. EHRs include practice management technology. 

EHR software often includes access to practice management systems. Through PMS platforms, you can streamline several front-office tasks, such as scheduling appointments and registering patients. It can improve medical billing and collection efficiency by giving coders and billers direct access to your clinical data. You can also generate customizable reports to help improve your practice’s financial performance.

Although many medical software providers require you to pay separately for EMR and PMS software, some providers include full EMR and PMS access to all paying customers.

FYIDid you know
When scheduling patients in your medical practice, use all available open time blocks and consider telemedicine appointments to maximize providers' availability.

7. EMRs and EHRs remove clutter and reduce mismanaged records.

Paper records just don’t cut it in fast-paced, emergency-heavy, high-volume spaces such as hospitals and private medical practices. Digital records solve this problem. They eliminate paper clutter. Since the practitioner notes are typed instead of handwritten, they’re less likely to be misunderstood. At this point, digital recordkeeping is the industry standard.

The best EMR and EHR software

Below are some of the best medical software platforms, which often comprise both EHR and PMS technology. 

  • CareCloud: CareCloud is known for keeping all the tools you need accessible at the top of your screen. As you navigate this platform, your journey will resemble front-office registration and checkout. Read our CareCloud review to learn more.
  • DrChrono: DrChrono offers impressive breadth and features in its competitively priced EHR software. You also get hands-on setup assistance when you choose DrChrono and that’s huge ― implementing EHR software can be overwhelming. Check out our DrChrono review to see how this vendor combines its initial helping hand with continuing support.
  • AdvancedMD: AdvancedMD offers an a la carte menu of EHR and PMS features. This means you avoid crowding your EHR with tools you don’t need ― all while not paying for any unnecessary extras. In our AdvancedMD review, we explain why we find this service model so beneficial for practices of all stripes.
  • athenahealth: athenahealth is your best bet if you need an EHR platform that can generate complex, in-depth practice reports. You also get support from the vendor’s in-house staff to improve your practice’s financial performance when necessary. Our athenahealth review explains more about how this EHR provider prioritizes data and analytics.
  • Kareo: Kareo stands out among EHR platforms because navigating its intuitive dashboard resembles moving through a social media feed. This familiarity is one reason why Kareo is great. The brand also offers lower pricing plans for therapists. Learn more via our Kareo review.

EMR vs. EHR: They’re different ― and the same

With EHR platforms, you can do things that aren’t possible with EMR technology alone. At the same time, EMR is part of EHR, so to call the two separate is somewhat inaccurate. Instead, think of EHR as an apple and EMR as the core: You can’t have the former without the latter. More than that, though, the larger of the two is far preferred ― and that’s as true with cores and apples as with EMR vs. EHR.

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Max Freedman, Business Operations Insider and Senior Analyst
Max Freedman has spent nearly a decade providing entrepreneurs and business operators with actionable advice they can use to launch and grow their businesses. Max has direct experience helping run a small business, performs hands-on reviews and has real-world experience with the categories he covers, such as accounting software and digital payroll solutions, as well as leading small business lenders and employee retirement providers. Max has written hundreds of articles for Business News Daily on a range of valuable topics, including small business funding, time and attendance, marketing and human resources.
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