EHR vs EMR: What are the Differences?

By Lexi Wood • Updated on October 19th, 2020
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The healthcare industry relies on using electronic data to streamline and improve medical services now more than ever. “Electronic health records (EHR)”, a specific method of healthcare data collection, is often used interchangeably with “electronic medical records (EMR)”. In fact, this is so common that most EHR solutions are often advertised as EMR as well, especially since both types of software provide many of the same services.

Yet there are some distinct differences between the two. If you are seeking a new medical software for your healthcare facility, you’ll need to understand how the two differ:

What is EMR?

Electronic medical records (EMR) is the original terminology for all electronic patient data. Over time, this meaning has slightly changed to mean relevant patient information collected during a specific medical encounter. An EMR essentially gives doctors the convenience of digital charts and cuts down on paperwork at medical facilities.

The information collected by EMR tends to resemble a real-world patient chart listing:

  • Diagnosis
  • Lab results
  • Current treatment

For example, a primary care physician may keep EMR for their own patients which can only be shared with other healthcare workers by request. If a patient is sick, the doctor can review the EMR to see what lab work has been ordered and what test results are available. They can then use this information to determine treatment options.

The data gathered by an EMR software can be transferred between different healthcare providers’ offices at the request of the patient or doctor.

What is EHR?

Electronic health records (EHR) refer to continually collected patient information to streamline provider workflow and is often used by doctors, physicians, and healthcare providers to make informed decisions about a patient’s care. EHR software can be used by hospitals, laboratories, specialist offices, medical imaging facilities, pharmacies, clinics, and emergency facilities.

Collected patient information may include:

  • Treatment history
  • Past and current diagnoses
  • Past and upcoming immunizations
  • Past and current medications
  • Allergies on file
  • Lab results
  • Treatment notes and observations
  • Insurance records
  • Demographic data

As seen above, EHR is more encompassing of a patient’s entire medical history than EMR. If a patient has an EHR instead of traditional paper records, their medical information from past appointments can be seen by anyone treating them in the future. Knowing the total medical history of a patient provides doctors and clinicians with a broader view of ways to personalize and improve quality of care.

Interoperability is another important distinction of EHR systems. This allows a patient to go from their primary care doctor to a specialist without having to fill out form after form of medical history. For example, a general practitioner refers a patient to a physical therapist for back pain. Using an EHR, the physical therapist can review a patient file to see when pain was first reported, if there are any relevant injuries listed in their history, and if they are currently on any prescribed medication. This can help them determine a treatment plan.

In short, EHR covers a patient’s entire medical history and follows them wherever they go. EMR only covers a patient’s chart from a specific doctor, appointment, or healthcare facility.

EHR vs EMR: Differences and Similarities

Which healthcare software you get depends on several factors:

Intended Users

EHR is intended to follow a patient through all their healthcare interactions. As such, EHR software is used by individual doctors, clinicians, specialists, hospitals, ERs, laboratories, and pharmacies. This type of software is even used by nursing homes, retirement communities, memory care facilities, and hospice centers. Of course, EMR can be used at all these healthcare facilities as well.

The difference between the two is how easy it is to share the records with other locations. Larger healthcare networks prefer to use EHR for easier sharing amongst their partners. Specialized or private clinics may prefer EMR digital charts for short-term patient work.

The final difference? EHR can be accessed by the patients as well, through specific apps or a patient portal on a website. Sometimes referred to as personal health records (PHR) , this extension of EHR allows for users to schedule appointments or make payments online.

Data Scope

As mentioned before, EHR can cover all patient records from their very first checkup to end-of-life care. While EMR may include some of this data, it is primarily related to the immediate patient issue at hand. The data compiled in an EHR can include comments from nurses, primary care doctors, therapists, and any other medical specialists who work with a specific patient.

EMR systems may be better suited for internal record monitoring because of their limited scope. Rather than dig through countless patient records, EMR lets medical professionals focus only on relevant data.

Finally, an EHR can be updated by a variety of sources. Different healthcare organizations can add changes whenever they meet with a patient, completely independent of one another. And patients can make their own requests for changes, such as reaching out to their pharmacist for e-prescribing services when they run out of medication.

Treatment Duration

EHR stay with a patient throughout all of their checkups, appointments, and treatments. An EMR is finished once the patient completes their medical visit. However, EMRs can still be used to indicate when supplementary services, such as preventative screenings or vaccinations, are necessary. Overall, an EHR will provide more in-depth data about past, current, and future treatment options for patients.

Different medical centers may prefer EMR for short-term patient records over an EHR. For example, an emergency clinic which frequently treats one-time patients may not want to bog down their system with more in-depth files. An EMR software would be more appropriate at this type of location, especially as a replacement for paper charts. However, a clinic which operates within a specific network would benefit from a full EHR to better share health information.

Which Healthcare Software is Best?

At the end of the day, it’s important to know most EHR software products advertise themselves as EMR as well. It’s safe for healthcare providers to assume the majority of EHR software options on the market provide all the same key features as EMR products. Find the right software for your medical facility.

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