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The terms electronic medical record (EMR) and electronic health record (EHR) are often used interchangeably. However, an EMR and an EHR serve much different purposes, despite sharing certain characteristics. Understanding the EMR vs. the EHR is important to the success of your technology investment and your practice.

One letter makes a huge difference

Both an EMR and EHR are digital records of patient health information. An EMR is best understood as a digital version of a patient's chart. It contains the patient's medical and treatment history from one practice. Usually, this digital record stays in the doctor's office and does not get shared. If a patient switches doctors, his or her EMR is unlikely to follow.

By contrast, an EHR contains the patient's records from multiple doctors and provides a more holistic, long-term view of a patient's health. It includes their demographics, test results, medical history, history of present illness (HPI), and medications.


  • Goes wherever the patient goes and gets shared by healthcare providers. As an all-inclusive patient record, it can powerfully help improve patient care and health outcomes.
  • Gives clinicians access to a wider range of patient data compared to an EMR. Such access facilitates better-informed decision making and care planning.
  • Meets meaningful use standards for incentive programs administered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). This compliance is an important reason why the healthcare industry is increasingly using EHR systems.

The bottom line: Both EMRs and EHRs help make healthcare more efficient and less costly. But to go beyond basic clinical data and focus on the total health of each patient, you need an EHR solution. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), established to promote a national health IT infrastructure, recommends it.

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