Electronic Medical Records and Electronic Health Records
What's the difference between EMR and EHR?
The terms electronic medical record (EMR) and electronic health record (EHR) are often used interchangeably. Technically, there is a distinction, but it's one that's been blurred by common usage. At a minimum, EMR systems replicate all aspects of your paper charting. They are designed to facilitate all the documentation you do in your office already—lab results, visit notes, diagnostic test results, insurance information, demographics, health histories, medication information, and more.
EHRs, on the other hand, are essentially EMRs with the capacity for greater electronic exchange; that is, they may be able to follow patients from practice to practice and allow for things like data exchange and messaging between physicians.
What they do
EHR systems can help physicians and office staff better navigate patient information before, during and after an office visit. Here are just a few of the multiple things that an EHR system may capture during a typical clinical visit.
Before a patient even steps into your office, manage scheduling, patient registration and insurance status, health history, insurance status and medication lists; electronically preview a patient's medical history.
During a patient's clinical visit, type in your clinical documentation, electronically prescribe medication, order tests and labs.
After the patient leaves, manage billing, claims submittal and coding. Electronically communicate with their consulting providers, payers, labs and pharmacies. In some cases, allow patients to view their results through a patient portal.
Who is using them
EHRs are quickly becoming the norm in many physician practices. As more practices adopt EHRs, the more effective they become as the circle of physicians who are able to "speak" to each other widens.
What they require
While some EHR systems are more robust than others, the functionality of an EHR system can be defined within the context of patient care: pre-visit functionality, visit functionality and post-visit functionality. Evaluate which functions are important to you and your practice before you begin talking to vendors.
Things to consider
If you have an existing practice management system (PMS), talk to your vendor to make sure that any proposed EHR will "talk to" the PMS you're currently using. These systems need to connect to ensure the patient's insurance, demographics, coding and billing information are exchanged between the two applications. In some cases it is more cost effective to choose an integrated PMS/EHR, which means replacing your PMS instead of paying to integrate your current system and the EHR.
Certified EHR technology
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services states that Certified EHR Technology is either a:
- Complete EHR that meets the requirements included in the definition of a Qualified EHR and has been tested and certified, or a
- Combination of EHR Modules in which each constituent EHR Module has been tested and certified and the resultant combination also meets the requirements included in the definition of a Qualified EHR.