What is the difference between EHR and EMR?

What is the difference between EHR and EMR?

The main difference between EHR and EMR is in the scope of what they manage. EHR is capable of accommodating the digital records of a patient’s record across systems and practices, while EMR can only manage the medical record of a patient’s specific diagnosis and is usually limited to a clinic’s record. You can say EMR is a subset of EHR. In general, EHR is useful to a medical practice network while EMR is ideal for independent clinics.

Digital medical information is prevalent in today’s healthcare industry as it promotes accuracy, convenience, and comprehensiveness. With that, as with any industry, jargons are developed and used by professionals for ease of transmission in both writing and speaking. This may leave many non-experts and members of the public unaware of these concepts.

Among the countless terminologies that litter the health care landscape and even used interchangeably at times are EHR and EMR. While the two have similarities, they also possess relevant differences which lead many to ask: What is the difference between EHR and EMR?

To help you better understand what is the difference between the two solutions, we will be discussing their definitions, present some examples of each software category and their different uses. By the time you’re done reading, you should be able to confirm your need for such platforms and even know what to look for in these systems.

ehr vs emr

Electronic medical record (EMR) also known as medical practice management software and electronic health record (EHR) platforms have become indispensable in today’s healthcare industry. Aside from accelerating the process of reviewing patient files, these tools help avoid complications arising from concerns such as patient information security, operational efficiency and patient engagement.

In this day and age, a paper-based system just won’t suffice. Filing cabinets and relying on staff to access paper records make for bad business practice. In the United States alone, there are an estimated over 800,000 physicians, 200,000 dentists, 5,000 hospitals, 16,000 nursing homes, and 200,000 laboratories. A single patient can take up more than 11 sheets of paper to record their information. Since facilities handle more than one patient each day, this approach accumulates numerous stacks of paper over time.

Paper-based systems are notorious for being inefficient and insecure. They even expose your data to errors, retrieval problems, and even theft. According to a Ponemon Institute study that looked at 350 companies in 11 countries, data breach costs an organization an average of $3.8 million, with the healthcare sector suffering the most in terms of financial losses, clocking in a worldwide per capita cost of $363. Such has become commonplace as 94% of healthcare organizations have experienced at least one data breach, 18% of whom have revealed the data breach even resulted in medical identity theft.

The channels where the medical healthcare industry was breached. (Source: HIT Consultant)

These statistics stress the importance of having electronic records for any modern medical practice. Office-based physicians understand their importance which is demonstrated by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Electronic Health Records Survey where 85.9% of practitioners have been found to have EHR and EMR systems in place. However, physicians have been found to view themselves as passive participants in efforts to optimize EHR as reflected in the Deloitte 2018 Survey of US Physicians.

So, if you want to leverage EHR or EMR to your advantage and, more importantly, to help protect patients’ records (failure to do so has costly legal consequences), the first step is to understand their differences.

EHR versus EMR

EHR and EMR are often used in the healthcare industry and most of the time, are referred to interchangeably. However, not everyone can clearly define the difference between the two. What is the difference between EHR and EMR? For a quick answer, both are similar applications with different capabilities. In fact, both offer a common function–documentation.

EHR means Electronic Health Record with the word “health” covering more in-depth information about a person’s overall health. EMR, on the other hand, refers to Electronic Medical Record with the word “medical” representing a patient’s medical diagnosis and treatment.

What is an EHR software?

EHR software is a digital record of a patient’s health information. Despite having mostly the same functions as an EMR, it provides more capabilities as it handles more than the standard clinical data available. Instead, it focuses on a patient’s overall health by accessing a broader view of the care they are receiving.

The EHR system is designed to follow a patient from one specialist or practice to another throughout their lives and collect all their medical information from all healthcare sources along the way. These include information commonly found in a paper charts such as the patient’s medical history, progress notes, allergies, vital signs, immunization dates, lab data, imaging reports, diagnoses, and medications and may even contain insurance information and demographic data. All the details about the symptoms, treatments, vaccinations, and prescriptions give the physician a complete picture of the patient’s overall health condition.

The major difference that really sets EHR apart from EMR is its interoperability. After recording information from various clinicians who are involved in the patient’s care, the system shares these data outside the practice by making them instantly and easily accessible to other authorized health care providers.

EHR companies are considered as the “future of healthcare” as the tools they offer significant advantages over paper-based systems. Using EHR in a healthcare ecosystem enables faster searching, retrieval and electronic sharing. The coordination of critical data between different providers is streamlined, allowing for better clinical decisions.

Furthermore, it’s a requirement for the Meaningful Use Incentive program. CEHRT (Certified Electronic Health Records Technology) follows a roadmap of features and functions that help eligible providers avoid penalties on reimbursements and qualify for incentives. This was established by the CMS (Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services).

Examples of an EHR Software

If you are looking for an EHR solution, we collected some examples of the leading products in this niche.

  1. TherapyNotes. TherapyNotes leads our EHR software category with its robust set of features that provides an all-around solution to facilitate the workflow of mental health professionals. This behavioral health practice management platform lives in the cloud which allows users to oversee their day to day operations anywhere, especially when it comes to scheduling and tracking appointments. As an EHR tool, it improves the quality of your healthcare service by ensuring accurate and secure interoperability with other healthcare professionals. It’s also packed with features such as electronic billing, data recovery, patient notes, and security and compliance. They even updated the platform with new features such as two-factor authentication options, treatment plan sharing tools, and note saving solutions. However, Therapy Notes has its pros and cons that you should know about before deciding on purchasing the system.
    You can find out more about this tool once you sign up for TherapyNotes free trial here.
  1. Practice Fusion. This is another reliable web-based EHR solution that’s built to facilitate the daily operations of small and medium-sized medical facilities. It’s also available for free which is helpful for solo practitioners. The platform unifies the connection between patients and healthcare providers while allowing mobilization of patient records. Its top features include patient scheduling, e-prescribing, charting, lab, and imaging integration, and Patient Portal, among others.
  2. Care360. This software best fits ambulatory services. It’s a web-based solution designed for practices such as family medicine, pediatrics, multi-specialty, cardiology, internal medicine, and OBGYNE but it’s also flexible enough to be used across various medical specialties. It has robust reporting capabilities, electronic lab management, customizable templates and e-prescribing features that enable facilities of any size to mobilize patients from any location without compromising accuracy and security. The platform has also started supporting information on implantable devices as well as a separate database for patient health concerns.

A dashboard showing the scheduling interface of TherapyNotes, a robust and full-featured EHR software solution.

What is an EMR software?

EMR software is essentially a digitized version of a paper chart which contains the patient’s medical history, diagnoses, medications, immunizations, and allergies. This helps clinicians keep track of historical data for each visit, monitor patients due for a checkup, and check a patient’s health levels in order to improve the quality of healthcare. This system is essential for a physician to stay on top of the state of the practice and determine how it’s doing with the treatment process. With that, it works well for a healthcare provider’s needs.

However, it can be a challenge when a patient has to be referred to another specialist since the system doesn’t travel outside the practice. It’s designed to remain and live primarily in a single practice where the patient visits. They can still be shared with other healthcare organizations and specialists but transferring the data can be a challenge. The patient records will have to be printed out and mailed to another provider.

For instance, if a patient has to see an endocrinologist, sharing the patient’s medical information is necessary. If the specialist has anything to add, your staff will have to manually type in the new information from the specialist’s faxed or mailed documentation. In this aspect, it’s limited capability is not so different from a paper-based system.

Still, it’s one of the first approaches that centralized and streamlined healthcare information and delivery during the rise of computers in the healthcare workplace. Despite its limitations, it effectively captures information digitally for easier population health modeling and faster historical data searchability. And because these tools come in different forms, it’s up to you to decide which medical management software is right for you.

Examples of an EMR Software

Below are some examples of the leading EMR software products you may check out:

  1. Cerner EMR. This is a powerful and intelligent EMR platform built around a person-centric, unified, and scalable architecture. It comes with expert medical knowledge to reduce manual actions and improve efficiencies. With an enterprise-wide and multi-facility capability, the system ensures the effective management of patients’ medical records in both ambulatory settings and acute care services that suit your custom needs.
  2. EpicCare. This is a physician-friendly EMR system which is also built for large hospitals and a wide variety of healthcare specialties and fields. It simplifies the workflows of physicians when it comes to managing and storing the medical records of patients. This robust app promotes the quality of healthcare through effective monitoring of patients’ medical information via a unified system in your facility or practice.
  3. Optum Physician EMR. A fully-integrated EMR solution, this product is capable of carrying out all the necessary medical practice operations for a value-based care system. The app is accessible through a cloud-based gateway that streamlines the way physicians access and manage medical records. With the aid of templates with guidelines, customizable chart summaries, analytics, and practice management functionalities, the application helps ensure the preservation of your patient’s health.

Sample patient’s record on Cerner system.

Which is Better: EHR or EMR?

Let’s go beyond answering — What is the difference between EHR and EMR? Is the one, in fact, better than the other? As mentioned, the two are mostly the same in terms of function and what they want to replace: paper-based systems. Their difference lies in their capabilities as one, the EHR, offers interoperability. If you’re curious to know which is better, the only way to determine the answer is through an in-depth evaluation of your daily operations and its needs.

When you consider semantics, yes, EHR offers more as it can seamlessly travel from one practice or provider to the next as its main focus is on the exchange of mental health information between providers. On the other hand, EMR is a legacy system that transforms a patient’s chart into digital representations – a function that an EHR shares.

The crucial thing, however, is having a system that foregoes the time-consuming and arduous process of paper-based charting and handwritten records. Considering your requirements, IT budget, or career stage, what’s highly important is enabling the progressive and valuable adoption of healthcare technologies in your workflow to improve the quality of your services.

How EHR and EMR Can Improve Patient Care

EHR and EMR systems may have different functions, but they offer similar kinds of benefits to medical practitioners. They are both created to streamline the workloads in clinics and hospitals in order to improve patient care. So it only makes sense that these platforms share common advantages. Some of which are:

  1. Increased Time for Patient Interaction. Whether you opt for an EHR software or an EMR system, you can be sure that you can increase your time for patient interaction. These are both built to help you reduce the time spent on back-office tasks such as collecting patient information and scanning medical histories. You can also do away with sifting through piles of paperwork in order to get hold of a particular patient’s files. This way, you can focus more on checking on your patients and giving them holistic treatments.
  2. Improved Data Retrieval. EHR and EMR tools serve as repositories of documents. Think of these as medical records rooms where you can retrieve patient data. The only difference is instead of having to manually search for files, all you need to do is type in the name of the document you need, and the system will pull it for you. Whether you need to take a look at general patient information, their family’s medical history, or their list of drug allergies, these systems can be tweaked to filter and organize searches to get you these details faster than ever. These especially come in handy in emergency situations where you are unable to get any information from the patient.
  3. Enhanced Patient Engagement. Hectic work schedules can sometimes prevent your patients from paying a visit to your clinic. In order to increase patient engagement, EHR and EMR systems are equipped with patient portals. These allow your patients to review their medical records, check the availability of their physicians, and schedule appointments. Furthermore, these are equipped with features that let patients ask for referrals and prescription refills even without physically meeting with their physician. Another thing that makes patient portals handy is that these can be customized to include the information that you want your patients to see. You can even use these platforms to help your ERP system grow your business. These include announcements on new medical exams or vaccines that you offer at your practice as well as reminders on when your patients are due for annual checkups.

These are but a few ways by which EHR and EMR tools may be used to improve patient care in your practice. Keep in mind that in order to reap these benefits, it is crucial that you learn the ins and outs of the platform that you purchase. There are a lot of EMR software providers out there to choose from. However, it is always good to stay in-the-know of best practices and trends related to EMR and EHR management so that using these tools are much more efficient.

Jenny Chang

By Jenny Chang

Jenny Chang is a senior writer specializing in SaaS and B2B software solutions. Her decision to focus on these two industries was spurred by their explosive growth in the last decade, much of it she attributes to the emergence of disruptive technologies and the quick adoption by businesses that were quick to recognize their values to their organizations. She has covered all the major developments in SaaS and B2B software solutions, from the introduction of massive ERPs to small business platforms to help startups on their way to success.

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