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Experts Speak: The Difference Between EHR Versus EMR

doctor-and-hospital-executive-discussing-medical-marketingIn his book, Transforming Health Care: The Financial Impact of Technology, Electronic Tools and Data Mining, Kaiser Permanente Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer Phil Fasano describes the first foray into health IT as the moment when the Mayo Clinic began storing paper medical records in plain manila folders back in 1907. Until then, medical records were nothing more than daily ledgers kept by individual departments, making it impossible to quickly access patient information.

More than a century later, the healthcare industry continues to evolve.

As a result, health IT encompasses a sometimes bewildering amalgam of acronyms — including two that are often used interchangeably, adding to the confusion. Let’s lay the debate over EHR vs EMR to rest.

EHRs and EMRs are Different

Around the same time that the “innovative” paper medical record-keeping system was turning 100, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) was being created to coordinate efforts to implement advanced health IT nationwide. The plan? Replace the manila folders filling file cabinets in hospitals and physician offices across the country with electronic files that could be easily stored and shared among healthcare providers to create a more complete picture of an individual’s health, accessible in real-time.

And that’s when the EHR vs. EMR debate began. Are electronic health records (EHRs) the same as electronic medical records (EMRs)? The ONC has stepped into the fray, offering definitions for both acronyms– as well as explaining its preference — on its Health IT Buzz blog.

According to the ONC, EMRs are the digital equivalent of the ubiquitous manila folder.

The term — which, by the way, predates EHRs — came about because they represent the “medical and treatment history of the patients in one practice.” 

In effect, the EMRs are still in a silo — accessible in real time within a particular provider’s facility, but not easily available when a patient visits the hospital or another healthcare provider. In fact, if a hospital needed information from a physician’s EMR — or vice versa — the records would likely be shared in print form.

For that reason, the ONC uses the term EHRs almost exclusively. As the ONC notes, “The word ‘health’ covers a lot more territory than the word ‘medical.’”

EHRs include the clinical data typical of an EMR, and, ideally, aggregate information across all of the providers involved throughout the continuum of care to provide a more detailed picture of patient health — a considerable benefit for doctors and other medical staff.

Just consider the following scenarios:

  • If a patient arrives to an ER unconscious, the treating clinician can access the EHR to learn about any serious allergies the patient might have.
  • Lab tests are kept up-to-date in a single location, ensuring that a consulting physician does not order duplicate tests.
  • A patient can review the EHR to see health trends which could motivate compliance with prescribed medications or lifestyle changes to improve results.
  • A more complete record of clinician notes from a hospitalization can lead to smoother transitions post-discharge, whether the patient is moving to a rehabilitation center or going home.

A Roadmap for Interoperability

Beyond the EHR vs. EMR debate, there’s another acronym that is critical to transforming healthcare in the digital age — HIE which stands for health information exchange.

One of the biggest challenges that healthcare providers face in implementing EHRs is interoperability. How do you exchange information — accurately and efficiently — among myriad disparate systems? Some of the biggest roadblocks to success are:

  • Systems developers that create solutions or platforms that limit interoperability. Certainly, companies need to stay profitable, but creating proprietary systems that won’t interface with each other easily — or require costly customization to do so — are at odds with the greater purpose of EHRs.
  • Lack of consistent, national standards to address semantic interoperability. Like the EHR versus EMR issue, inconsistent terminology negates some of the value of the collected data. A myocardial infarction and a heart attack may be one-in-the-same — but the use of two different terms limits the value of data when applying analytics to mine for meaningful trends to apply to population health initiatives.

And the ONC is collaborating with subject matter experts from within healthcare and other industries, as well as state officials, to plot a path to nationwide interoperability. The ultimate goal, which, the ONC shares with healthcare providers everywhere, “is to have a nationwide, learning health system where accurate and evidence-based information helps ensure the right individual receives the right care at the right time to increase health-care quality, lower health-care costs and improve population health.”

Armed with data from a comprehensive EHR, healthcare providers are certainly better positioned to provide that care — but will patients be receptive?

In order to activate patients into taking advantage of the innovations transforming healthcare, hospitals and physicians need to understand what drives patient behavior. The c2b Insights Accelerator — an interactive database of healthcare consumer market research data — can empower healthcare providers with the insights necessary to motivate healthy behaviors. 

The billions of dollars invested in health technology — and the debate over EMR vs. EHR — is meaningless if patients are not motivated to uphold their end of the care bargain. Healthcare consumer insights can enhance healthcare providers’ marketing, communications and education programs to connect with patients more effectively. To learn more, contact c2b solutions today.

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