There has been confusion about the difference between Electronic Medical Records (EMR) and Electronic Health Records (EHR) since the government initiated the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Although there are some similarities, they are different functions for each system.
Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) are the digital equivalent to the paper charts used in medical offices, urgent care clinics, and hospitals. The information in the EMR is used by the provider for diagnosis and treatment of a current condition, tracking patient data over time, flagging patients due for preventative care visits, and improving the quality of care provided by that clinic or hospital system.
The information stored in the EMR is typically not shared electronically with outside providers. The patient must usually have records transferred by printing, faxing, hand carrying, or mailing the documents. As technology advances, this may become less of an issue due to the interrelationships of electronic systems becoming more common. Eventually, EMRs and EHRs will connect and share data.
Electronic Health Records (EHRs) are designed to house all of a patient’s information from all care providers. The healthcare providers all have access to this database of information. Other care providers, such as laboratories and nursing homes, can also access the patient data. The EHR gives an all-inclusive, broad view of the patient’s health status.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 outlined incentives for providers to initiate EHRs into their offices or hospitals in an attempt to improve healthcare for all U.S. citizens. The goal was to streamline the transfer of patient information and collect it all in one place for complete record accessible by any qualitied provider.
Critics of the2009 initiative have voiced concerns about patient medical record privacy and auto populated fields in the records. These are legitimate concerns that are being addressed as the industry works out the bugs in the system. According the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, more than 478,000 health care providers received payment for participating in the program as of September 2015. That is over half of the providers in the country.
Use of EMRs and EHRs will continue to grow as practitioners become more comfortable with using electronics vs. paper charts, orders, notes, and prescriptions. Technology companies are diligently working on patches for the system to help different systems interface with each other. There is no way to predict the future of EMRs and EHRs, but it looks as though they are here to stay.