EMR vs EHR – What is the Difference?

Although official definitions were released more than 4 years ago by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), there still doesn’t seem to be consensus in the Healthcare IT industry regarding the differences between EMR and EHR.

The essential difference between EMR and EHR lies in how electronic information will be used or shared – within the confines of a single provider practice or will it be shared across a wide range of different providers, such as specialists’ offices, labs, insurance providers and government agencies? An EMR is limited to storing and managing information for a patient usually related only to the care being provided by a single organization. On the other hand, an EHR provides information for a patient from multiple sources and is focused on the overall health information of a patient, which means that such information is ‘interoperable’.

Interoperability features of the EHR provide authorized means to its users to access and share patient information across organizational boundaries, enabling a holistic view of patient’s health at the point of care. While both EMRs and EHRs provide similar benefits (cost savings through improved workflow and paper reduction, improved delivery of care accuracy), EMRs provide those benefits only within a specific boundary. EHRs, because they are shared across various mediums, increase the efficiency of patient care and improve patient outcomes, disseminate information rapidly between care providers, help with research efforts, and cut costs throughout the entire system more promptly and reliably.

With fully functional EHRs, all members of the team have instant access to the latest information allowing for more coordinated, patient-centered care. The clinician’s notes from the patient’s hospital stay can help inform the discharge instructions and follow-up care and enable the patient to move from one care setting to another more smoothly. Patients can log on to their own records and see the trend of the lab results over the last year, which can help them take their medications and keep up with the lifestyle changes that have improved the numbers.

In addition, the Meaningful Use incentive is the first step toward standardizing some of these best practices for existing and new EMR/EHR solutions. All certified EHRs are required to support these standards as part of the certification requirements. However, most certified EHR implementations today do not leverage these features and align more with the definition of EMR.

So, yes, the difference between EMR and EHR is just one alphabet, but in that one alphabet there is a world of difference.