The terms Electronic Health Records (EHR) and Electronic Medical Records (EMR) are frequently used as if they both mean the same thing. But while they are similar in nature, they are actually quite different with respect to usage.
Electronic Medical Records are digital versions of patient records created in a medical office or facility. These consist of computerized patient records, digital x-rays, scanned test results, and other digitized records. EMRs are used within a health care facility and are not intended to be accessed by hospitals and physicians outside of the facility. In many cases, the systems lack the ability to transmit information electronically and records may have to be printed and then mailed or faxed to another facility.
Electronic Health Records is the term used by the US government under the HITECH Act to describe medical records that can be shared among different medical facilities. In other words, the digital records are created using standards and systems that allow the patient information to be transmitted to other physicians and hospitals when they are needed. This could be simply when a patient moves from one doctor to another, or in the case of a hospital emergency where access to the patient’s full medical history could save his or her life.
The primary difference between Electronic Health Records and Electronic Medical Records is therefore the intended use. An EMR system is an early version of, or a stepping stone to, the implementation of an EHR system. The term commonly used to describe the advantage of a full EHR system is “interoperability,” which means that the system has the ability to securely share information when it is needed somewhere else.
There is a third type of digital health history record called a Personal Health Record (PHR) that describes a private digital medical record history gathered and managed by the patient. The sharing of this information is at the discretion of the patient and is not necessarily stored in any medical facility. Although copies of the individual health records exist in various medical facilities, the patient has taken the responsibility to assure that all of his or her important health information is combined into a single secure electronic storage location and point of electronic access.
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