EHR vs EMR – What’s the Difference?

About a decade ago, people weren’t aware of what EMR or EHR meant or the key differences between the two. But now, technologies have progressed and medical practitioners have embraced technology as a core part of health care. Most importantly because of the way technology has simplified the most complex processes and needs of these practitioners. All thanks to medical software.

Now, let’s come to medical record keeping software. The functions of electronic medical records and electronic health records are the same — documentation. But HealthIT Buzz, a blog by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) (an entity under the US Department of Health and Human Services) defines them as the following:

EMRs are a digitized versions of paperwork in a clinician’s office. They contain the medical and treatment history of patients at a practice. EMRs help clinicians track historical data, identify patients who are due for checkups, keep a check on patients’ health levels (such as blood pressure or vaccinations) and monitor and improve the quality of care in the practice. However, transferring data out of the practice from EMRs is anything but easy; patient records have to be printed or mailed for consultations.

EHRs offer more functions than EMRs as they focus on a patient’s total health, not just the standard clinical data but a broader view of the care being provided. They facilitate sharing data outside the practice with other health care providers, such as laboratories and specialists. Therefore, EHRs record information from all the clinicians involved in the patient’s care.

By these definitions, an EHR is an EMR with interoperability (i.e., it integrates with other providers’ systems). Naturally, EHR should be the more popular choice.

But hold on.

What Google Trends Tells Us

A look at Google Trends data shows us otherwise. Over the past year and even the past five years, EMR has surpassed the search volume of EHR.

EMR vs EHR on Google Trends

Source: Google Trends

What’s interesting to note is the regions that search for EMR and EHR. North America clearly dominates the search volume, indicating the vast potential EMR software vendors can tap into.

Search volume by region

Source: Google Trends

Software Vendors Follow Google Trends

We noticed this way back in 2012 that software vendors’ choice of terminology mirrored Google’s search data trends. Back then, vendors standardized on “EHR” to describe their offerings.

Software vendor terminology

However, what’s more important than describing the digitization of medical records is the unity and maturity being shown in the EHR industry. The vendors, government and medical practitioners are using the same terminology.

Paul Winandy, the former CEO of WebPT (a cloud-based physical therapy business solution), summed it this way: “[It] doesn’t matter if you call it an EHR or an EMR. Any system that effectively transitions healthcare providers from paper charts to electronically capture patient care will advance healthcare in the U.S.”

Marketing Terms Aside…

In the end, whether you select an EMR or EHR should depend on how you map your organization’s requirements and assess the existing systems. Interoperability is the key to IT’s role in health care. The selection of a medical records system can be considered based on the following criteria:

  • Adherence to the latest interoperability certification standards (as per the nonprofit Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society [HIMSS])
  • Adoption of a unique workflow that matches your practice and specialty
  • Maximum usability at the point of care

Fulfilling these requirements should help your practice increase the ROI and improve the incentives received from payers.

So What Should I Implement?

Even with complete definitions in place, it can be difficult to evaluate EMRs/EHRs and determine which system to buy.

At the same time, most providers will make their decisions based on their IT budget and their career stage. A young physician will almost certainly want to lay the IT foundation for participating in the future vision for healthcare interoperability. They will likely be supported in this effort by their health system.

Meanwhile, a more mature physician who wants to “go paperless,” but is not an aggressive adopter of IT, may opt for a standalone EMR system and forgo the costs and challenges of integration.

In the end, these individual decisions underlie what is a progressive, and highly beneficial, adoption of health care technologies.

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