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EMR vs. EHR: What are the Differences?

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This article was originally written in September 2017 and was updated in May 2023

Many people use the terms EMR and EHR interchangeably, but there are important distinctions between them. In this article, we will explore the differences and advantages of each, as well as how other healthcare professionals use these technologies.

What is an EMR?

An electronic medical record (EMR) contains all the information you would expect to find in a paper version of someone's medical records. EMRs typically include documents about a patient's:

  • Current and past medications
  • Known allergies
  • Lab results
  • Demographic information
  • Ongoing health concerns
  • Previous health concerns that were treated successfully

Healthcare practitioners use EMRs to identify patterns, determine health issues, and diagnose medications or lifestyle changes that might lead to better health outcomes. General practitioners can also use EMR medical records to determine when to send someone to a specialist. 

Healthcare providers do not usually share EMRs with practitioners outside of their immediate networks. This is a critical difference in the discussion about EMR vs. EHR. 

What is an EHR?

An electronic health record (EHR) contains much of the information you will find in an EMR. When comparing EMR vs. EHR, you will likely find that they both tell you about a patient's medical history, including major health events, allergies, and medications.

Why, then, do healthcare service providers sometimes use both EMRs and EHRs? What are the differences between EMR and EHR systems?

Most importantly, EHRs contain more information than EMRs because they include comprehensive patient medical histories. That history will often include diagnoses, prescriptions, and other information from – ideally – every medical professional the patient has seen. While a single provider keeps an EMR, multiple providers add to and share EHRs to improve patient outcomes.

While your practice might have a preference regarding EMR vs. EHR, you almost certainly use EHRs when coordinating with practitioners outside of your immediate network. That means you need a reliable way to record patient information accurately.

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What are the Differences between EHR and EMR Systems?

Electronic Health Record (EHR)

Electronic Medical Record (EMR)

Includes information from all healthcare providers involved in a patient's medical history.

Used by a single healthcare practitioner to track a patient's medical history.

Offers a more comprehensive view of a patient's medical history and current health.

Focuses on a patient's medical history and current health as it pertains to a specific service provider.

Used by large medical practices and hospitals.

Typically used by individual practitioners and small medical practices (although some hospitals use them in conjunction with EHRs).

Easy to share with other healthcare practitioners, including hospitals, specialists, labs, and nursing homes.

Mostly restricted to an individual service provider, although some EHRs collect information from multiple EMRs.

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Benefits of EMRs and EHRs

Although there are differences between EMR and EHR systems, both offer benefits for healthcare providers and patients.

Before healthcare providers had digital documents, they kept paper records that were easy to lose, damage, and misfile. Paper files could also make it difficult for doctors to read what they had written. Even the same doctor might struggle to write what they had hurriedly written in a chart several years ago.

Once EHRs started becoming available in the 1970s and ‘80s, researchers found that digital records improved:

  • Accuracy of data
  • Payments to healthcare providers for meaningful services
  • HIPAA regulation compliance
  • Patient-physician relationships

Today, the vast majority of medical practices embrace digital technology because they understand the benefits it offers. Whether you’re using EMR or EHR, accurate, digital documents make it easier to treat patients and improve the results of medical interventions.

With these technologies, healthcare providers can see more patients in the same amount of time while offering better outcomes. When you don't need to fuddle with paper documents, you can move swiftly between patients without getting their information confused.

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Do Hospitals Use EMR or EHR?

Most large hospitals use EHRs so they can share information between doctors, nurses, labs, and other parts of the healthcare system. Some may also use EMRs to keep track of a specific patient’s data and create unique healthcare plans. Typically, though, large hospital systems agree that the differences between EMR and EHR make EHRs more useful.

How Do EMR and EHR Work Together?

You don’t always need to think about digital healthcare documents as EHR vs. EMR. They can work together quite well. In fact, an EHR might pull information from multiple EMRs. In these cases, the EHR acts as a centralized depository for a patient’s medical history and current state. 

What are the Differences Between EHR vs EMR Systems?

There are a few key differences between EHR vs EMR. EMR systems store medical information about a patient’s health, treatments, and medications, however, EMRs are typically used inside a single healthcare organization such as a clinic or hospital. EHR systems also provide patient medical information, but they offer a comprehensive view of a patient’s health across different healthcare organizations, hospitals, and clinics, and the data can be shared with any healthcare providers, labs, or clinics as necessary.