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By: Stephen O'Connor

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September 13th, 2017

EHR vs EMR: What are the Key Differences?

Electronic Health Records

Any given industry will tend to develop its own particular vernacular, with inside terms that outsiders typically do not need to understand but are essential for key players to be aware of. Jargon serves to separate professionals from the non-experts and members of the public, and its use also saves time when writing and speaking about various concepts.

A case in point is the healthcare industry, where many people in medical practices have heard the terms “EHR” and “EMR” being bandied about but are not quite sure what they refer to or what the differences are between the two.

The first step in understanding EHR vs EMR is to know that EHR stands for electronic health records and EMR stands for electronic medical records. They are similar applications but have different capabilities that you should become aware of.


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About Electronic Medical Records

Essentially, EMRs are digital versions of paper charts and are maintained at the doctor’s office. In the early days of digital medical information, clinicians were focused on medical diagnosis and treatment, which explains why they used the term “Medical” in EMR. (By contrast, the “Health” in EHR refers to a patient’s overall health situation and not just medical questions as revealed by diagnosis and lab test results.)

Key benefits of an EMR include helping the physicians keep track of data over time and identify which patients need to come in for a checkup, screening, or appointment.

EMRs also help practitioners get a quick glance at the patients’ basic vitals, such as blood pressure and weight. Finally, an EMR enables you to get a better view of the state of the practice and how it is doing in treated patients.

However, there are also some disadvantages when it comes to using electronic medical records. For example, you cannot share information about your patients outside of the office.

Consider what happens if you run a family medical practice and you are referring a patient to see a specialist, such as an endocrinologist. Your practice needs to share information with the specialist, but since the EMR is only designed for internal use by one practice, your staff would probably need to print out the patient’s chart and mail it.

This means that your EMR files are pretty much the same as paper records at this point. And when the specialist has information to add, the details cannot be transferred back to your EMR without your staff first typing them in from the specialist’s faxed or mailed documentation.

About Electronic Health Records

An EHR contains all of the things an EMR does, but offers much more. EHRs are designed to collect all medical information from all healthcare sources, including multiple physicians, hospitals, and the patient themselves.

Benefits of switching to an EHR system include:

  • Secure when compared to paper records: You can designate specific members of your team to access and change records, as well as conduct audits to detect when people try to gain unauthorized access.

  • Also secure to send and share information with others: The data that you share with other parties, such as a specialist, must be safeguarded so that criminal hackers cannot make off with patient information and commit identity theft and fraud.

  • Important information available in emergencies: The EHR allows patient information to be made present to emergency room doctors immediately with the full medical history and details on any allergies or other issues.

  • Patient portal: A patient portal lets patients enter their own information from the comfort of home using an internet-connected computer, instead of having to fill out stacks of paper forms that your staff will later have to input by hand.

  • Access to advanced tools: An EHR will include tools and various features to help you make better decisions and work more efficiently. For example, you can use analytics to detect emerging patterns of patient behavior, such as more no-shows to appointments in a certain population or ZIP code.

  • E-prescribing: Electronic versions of traditional prescriptions made by signing a piece of paper from the physician’s Rx pad are more convenient for the doctor, who just needs to transmit the details to the pharmacy. Patients don’t need to wait, since the medicine will be processed while they travel from the doctor’s office.

  • Voice-to-text data entry: Typing in patient details takes longer than speaking. You can activate speech recognition in your EHR to automatically transcribe what the nurse or doctor says, and the text appears on the screen in real time.

  • Reporting: Each report that you need to generate for your practice, such as revenue projections or how many patients have failed to pay their bill after the second notice are much easier to generate, thanks to templates that you customize in the EHR application.

It’s Essential That a Modern Medical Practice Uses Some Form of Electronic Records

Any modern practice needs some form of electronic records. Trying to get by using a paper-based system will simply not do.

What’s more, your practice is eligible to receive financial incentives from Medicare and Medicaid, but only if you are using certified EHR software that allows you to communicate details about patients electronically to insurance providers and public health researchers.

Paper records secured by a mere filing cabinet and a reliance on your staff to only access the details when authorized make for bad business practices in this day and age. With electronic records, you can maintain security by keeping unauthorized individuals from seeing patient information.

Electronic records also make for better patient engagement, especially when you consider how much time they save in the clinical setting, allowing your nurses and doctors to spend more time on treatment and less time on record keeping.

A patient portal activated in your electronic records will further boost engagement, since patients can access the system to check on things such as lab results, request an appointment, or send a message to a member of your staff. The more engaged patients are, the better chance you have of retaining them for the long term.

Key Takeaway

  • For professionals working in the healthcare industry, it’s good to have an understanding of EHR vs EMR.
  • EHR stands for Electronic Health Records.
  • EMR stands for Electronic Medical Records.
  • While EHR and EMR might seem to be referring to the same thing, an EHR is more flexible, because it lets you gather information from multiple sources while an EMR only handles local data.
  • Any medical practice that is still relying on antiquated systems based on paper to keep track of patient records will need to upgrade to some form of electronic records in order to remain competitive.

As you can see, the issue of choosing EHR vs EMR is easier to sort out when you have a better understanding of what the differences are between these two types of medical software. To help you become more informed about these applications and how they would serve your organization, please click here to download our informative e-book, “Electronic Health Records Software: A Vital Component to Any Medical Practice.”

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About Stephen O'Connor

As a Director of Digital Marketing at Advanced Data Systems Corporation, Stephen spends his days planning, writing, & designing resources for the modern healthcare professional. He has a strong affinity for snow crab legs, the ocean and Rutgers Football.

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