What You Need to Know about EHR and EMR: The Basics of Electronic Health Records

Physician Using Laptop From the first stethoscope to the modern EKG machine, the healthcare industry has long used new technology to help people live healthy, productive lives. That trend has continued with the development of the electronic health record (EHR).

By collecting and storing medical information in a digital format, EHRs have many benefits for both doctors and patients. EHRs allow doctors to immediately access important medical information and save patients time and money by preventing duplicate testing and prescribing medication covered by the patient’s insurance. Features like lab testing and medication reminders or alerts make it easier to manage chronic conditions. An EHR system also improves efficiency in hospitals and doctors’ offices by integrating administrative tasks such as billing and reimbursement.

An electronic medical record (EMR) is similar to an EHR, and the two terms are often used interchangeably – but there is a difference.

An EHR is a digital record of patient information that can be added to by all medical professionals involved in the care of that patient, and shared with patients as well. Like an EHR, an EMR also contains important patient information. The difference is that an EMR is usually limited for use within a particular doctor’s office or hospital.

The idea of electronic health records is not a new one; it has actually been around since the 1960s. However, the movement to store a patient’s medical information using an easy-to-access digital system gained a great deal of momentum with the passage of the American Recovery Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). A component of that act, called the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH), requires physicians and hospitals to use certified electronic health record technology in a meaningful way by the year 2015.

Using this technology in a meaningful way, referred to as meaningful use, is defined as using EHR in a way that can be measured in quality and quantity. Meaningful practices include ePrescribing, maintaining active medication lists and reporting vaccinations and diagnoses.

HITECH impacts both doctors and hospitals. The hope is to ensure that patient information can be easily shared between systems, all while guaranteeing security and confidentiality.

Medical providers who show that they meet the specific HITECH criteria can qualify for incentive payments from Medicare or Medicaid. Physicians who are not using an EHR by 2015 will see a decrease in reimbursement from Medicare. Hospitals that do not comply with the act will also be subject to financial penalties.


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