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EMR vs. EHR: Why That Single Letter Makes All the Difference for Your Practice

August 04, 2015 Posted in: Your Practice , Article

As a busy medical professional, you might not spend a moment's thought on EMR vs. EHR. "Big whoop," you think to yourself. "Just a single letter difference." It can't mean that much ... can it?

Well, it can.

EMR (electronic medical records) is an internal system, whereas EHR (electronic health records) is an all-encompassing internal and external system. Contrary to common perception, there's no EMR vs. EHR debate. Instead, think of it this way: Electronic health records form an aggregate of patient information, comprising the entirety of an individual health organization's electronic medical records.

EHR in Action

Consider the following scenario: A new patient, fresh from the fields of Nebraska, walks through the revolving glass doors of your Beverly Hills medical plaza. You've obviously never seen him before, so you obtain a thorough medical history. He explains that he recently visited a GI doc and has "a issue somewhere in the colon." He also reveals that he had heart surgery a couple years back "for some valve problem." Unsurprisingly, he can't remember the name of the surgery. Nonetheless, you type the notes into your clinic's EMR system.

During those few seconds of typing, you begin to think, "Without a proper history and all of these potential red flags, how can I properly and efficiently evaluate this patient? Will I miss something? I have four other patients in the waiting room, but this is going to take some time. I just wish I had his complete file; it would make this so much easier." This is the point when you'll truly realize the benefits of EHRs, as they make all the information you need readily available in the system.

Optimum Tracking and Management

Let's break this down simply: EMR is an intraclinic (or intrahospital) patient charting system. It contains information regarding medical and treatment history. As opposed to traditional paper charts, EMR has greater functionality that allows for easier data tracking and patient management. For instance, in this new age of notifications, you can set alerts for when patients are due for their yearly screening and instantaneously send them a message to make an appointment.

An EHR comprises patient information not only contained in your clinic's EMR but also collects EMR patient data across different hospitals, clinics, and health organizations. Needless to say, using an EHR helps to promote practice efficiency by eliminating task redundancy and engenders a higher standard of care. With an EHR, the doctor is up to date regarding a patient's history and progress as soon they walk into the room. This promotes more informed decision-making, and thus, better quality of care.

Now your clinic doesn't have to patiently wait on lab results; instead, as soon as they're ready, you'll see the information you need pop up in the patient's chart. Better yet, patients may also log in to see their entire health file, allowing them to track their health changes over time and make lifestyle changes if necessary.

Benefits for the Practice, Doctor, and Patient

An EHR achieves a rare trifecta: It's a win for three parties. It's a win for the clinic because it saves time over the old method (attaining charts from other health care organizations, taking down verbal information from patients, and so on). Less time lost will translate into more time with patients.

It's clearly a win for doctors, because as soon as they step into a room, they have access to everything they need for a complete understanding of a patient's health history. This promotes efficient, comprehensive care -- an approach patients (the third winners) will surely value. The transmission of information across providers empowers doctors with a thorough knowledge of any patient's medical past and present, raising the bar for care and maximizing the potential for the best outcomes. This helps not only in treatment, but also in prevention.

Thanks to electronic medical records, we can say goodbye to the days of massive file cabinets filled with endless paper charts. And thanks to electronic health records, we can similarly say goodbye to scrambling between primary-care physicians, GI docs, heart surgeons, and other providers to assemble a complete, up-to-date medical history of our patients. We are in the midst of a revolution in how medical files are saved and transmitted. With the improvement in efficiency as a result of EHRs, you needn't worry about those four patients in the waiting room -- you'll get to them with time to spare and leave them all feeling informed and valued.

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