EMR vs EHR: What's the Difference Between the Two?

In a discussion of health IT, you might see electronic medical record (EMR) and electronic health record (EHR) used interchangeably. Although they share certain functionalities, they serve entirely different purposes.

What's the difference between an EMR and an EHR?

An electronic medical record (EMR) is an electronic version of the medical record a doctor generates during an exam. EMRs enable doctors to track patients' conditions over time and monitor a practice's overall quality of care. However, this type of digital record cannot leave the doctor's office, so it's not easily shared. If a patient switches doctors, the EMR is unlikely to follow.

An electronic health record (EHR) contains everything within an EMR, plus more. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), which uses the term EHR almost exclusively, emphasizes that “health” has a much broader meaning than “medical.” As such, an EHR contains more than just the clinical data from one doctor. An EHR offers a holistic, long-term view of the patient's health, and contains:

  • A patient's records from all doctors
  • Test results
  • Medical history
  • Medication list
  • Demographics

EHRs are meant for sharing. The EHR can go wherever the patient goes – and as a result, it's a powerful tool for improving patient care and health outcomes.

One letter = huge impact on decision making

Using an EHR instead of an EMR provides clinicians with greater access to a wider range of patient data. This can better inform decision making and care planning. Sources of this information vary, however. And sometimes filtered data doesn't deliver the most precise picture of the patient's health. So clinicians must understand data sources, ensure their reliability, and verify the accuracy of the information with the patient.

Bottom line? Both EMRs and EHRs help to make healthcare more efficient and less costly. But, in order to go beyond basic clinical data and focus on the total health of each patient, the ONC recommends the use of electronic health records (EHRs).

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