The difference between EMRs vs EHRs

The terms electronic medical record (EMR) and electronic health record (EHR) can be confusing and, in fact, are quite often used interchangeably. Although they have much in common, there are some significant differences. The term EMR was widely used before EHR technology became more prevalent among independent physicians.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), on its webpage describing Certified EHR Technology, adds a very brief note regarding the use of the term EMR. Acknowledging that some medical professionals use the two terms to mean the same thing, CMS states that “very often an Electronic Medical Record or EMR is just another way to describe an Electronic Health Record or EHR.” However, for the purposes of the CMS Incentive Programs, “eligible professionals, eligible hospitals and critical access hospitals (CAHs) must use certified EHR technology.”

The Office of Health Information Technology (IT) clarifies the differences between the terms, saying basically that an EHR contains a little more information and is more accessible by multiple healthcare providers:

Electronic medical records (EMRs) are digital versions of the paper charts in clinician offices, clinics, and hospitals. EMRs contain notes and information collected by and for the clinicians in that office, clinic, or hospital and are mostly used by providers for diagnosis and treatment.

Electronic health records (EHRs) are built to go beyond standard clinical data collected in a provider’s office and are inclusive of a broader view of a patient’s care. EHRs contain information from all the clinicians involved in a patient’s care and all authorized clinicians involved in a patient’s care can access the information to provide care to that patient. EHRs follow patients – to the specialist, the hospital, the nursing home, or even across the country.

A patient’s care is better coordinated through the use of EHRs in the primary care physician’s office, as the information can be shared with multiple providers, laboratories, and healthcare facilities.