What’s the difference between EHR and EMR?

By André Query | June 24, 2021

If you’re struggling to understand the difference between an electronic medical record (EMR) and an electronic health record (EHR), you’re not alone. The confusion around EMR vs EHR is common, and one major contributing factor is how often they are used interchangeably. However, while they share characteristics, EMRs and EHRs differ in their overall capabilities in supporting a patient’s health.

What is an EMR?

An electronic medical record (EMR) is a system that maintains the digital patient records of a single practice. Each digital patient record documents the medical and treatment history of a patient and replaces the paper charts clinicians used in the past. EMRs make it easy for clinicians to track clinical data over time, identify when a patient is due for preventative care, and monitor the overall quality of care within the practice.

What EMRs don’t do is directly support the exchange of clinical data between healthcare organizations. For specialists or other care team members to see EMR data, the files must be handed off by the patient or organization through physical or digital means. In this way, EMRs function very similarly to paper records.

What is an EHR?

An electronic health record (EHR) starts with all the capabilities of an EMR but shares access to those patient records with other healthcare organizations. EHRs are designed to allow patient records to automatically move with patients as they seek care from specialists, laboratories, or other healthcare organizations. As patients move between healthcare settings, their digital records are shared and updated to include any new data or care information. By always sharing the most complete and current version of a patient’s records, EHRs allow clinicians to make more informed care decisions.

In summary

While EMRs and EHRs both improve the efficiency of healthcare delivery, the differences are significant. EMRs essentially manage digital patient records for a single practice. They are limited in their ability to share those records with other healthcare organizations and, as a result, may not have the most up-to-date clinical data on a patient. EHRs start with the same patient record capability as an EMR, but also support the ability to share that information amongst all the healthcare organizations that a patient visits. The result is that EHRs naturally deliver a more complete picture of a patient’s medical history and enable more coordinated patient-centered care.

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