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EMR vs. EHR: what's the difference?

There can be some confusion about the distinction between an EHR (electronic health records) system and an EMR (electronic medical records) system; in fact, EHRs and EMRs refer to the same thing and have often been used interchangeably.

But the term "electronic health records" has been referenced far more frequently, probably due in part to its use by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), as well as the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information (ONC). In the world of health care reform, the CMS refers to the "meaningful use of an EHR," and the ONC has clearly stated they use "EHR" and "electronic health records" almost exclusively, explaining "the word 'health' covers a lot more territory than the word 'medical'. And EHRs go a lot further than EMRs."1

The ONC goes on to explain that electronic medical records contain a patient's clinical data, while electronic health records go beyond that to focus on the broader, total health of each patient.

The idea of an EHR has been around since about the late 1960s2 but, due to Meaningful Use requirements, the use of EHRs is becoming more widespread throughout the health care industry. EHRs represent a notable improvement over paper medical records because they not only enable the convenient, accurate, and comprehensive capture of a patient's history, but they also facilitate the rapid searching, recall, and electronic sharing of that history with other providers and medical applications.

1 "EMR vs. EHR—What is the Difference?," Peter Garrett and Joshua Seidman, PhD, HealthIT Buzz, January 4, 2011 http://www.healthit.gov/buzz-blog/electronic-health-and-medical-records/emr-vs-ehr-difference/
2 "The History of the Electronic Health Record," Larry Pawola, PharmD, MBA, University of Illinois at Chicago; Head, Department Biomedical and Health Information Sciences, Program Director Health Informatics, February 22, 2011, http://healthinformatics.uic.edu/the-history-of-the-electronic-health-record/

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