EMR vs EHR: Electronic Medical Records and Electronic Health Records Systems [+ FAQs]

Let's dive into the differences between an EMR vs EHR, the benefits, and how today's health IT standards are evolving to revolutionize patient care.
Two People Wearing Scrubs Look At A Computer Screen, Illustrating The Topic: &Quot;Emr Vs Ehr: What'S The Difference?&Quot;

Do you remember the days when stacks of paper records cluttered clinic shelves? The frantic search for a patient’s folder before their appointment? The occasional misplaced file?

Over the years, the paper mountains flattened, replaced by screens and rapid keystrokes.

Now, electronic medical records (EMR) and electronic health records (EHR) systems are the backbone of health data management, keeping organizations of all sizes streamlined, compliant, and patient-centric.

Let’s dive into the differences between EMRs vs EHRs, their benefits, and how today’s health IT standards are evolving to revolutionize patient care. (Short on time? Jump right to the infographic!)

EMR vs EHR: Key Definitions in Digital Health

How do you define electronic medical records vs electronic health records?

An EMR (Electronic Medical Record) is a digital version of a patient’s paper chart, stored for use within a single practice setting.

An EHR (Electronic Health Record) is a comprehensive digital record of a patient’s health journey, available to share across different healthcare providers and settings.

The terms EHR and EMR are often used interchangeably, but there are key differences—especially when you look at the systems designed to store and manage these records.

What is an electronic medical record (EMR) system?

An EMR (Electronic Medical Record) system is an electronic database that captures and stores information related to a patient’s medical treatment in a single healthcare organization. This information can include patient demographics, medical history, medication and allergies, immunization status, laboratory test results, radiology images, vital signs, and billing information.

EMRs are considered local systems, because they are typically designed to work with one practice or hospital system, and it is often difficult to enable communication between EMRs and other health systems.

What is an electronic health record (EHR) system?

An EHR (Electronic Health Record) system is a digital system used for the collection, storage, and sharing of a patient’s comprehensive health information in a manner that is secure, maintainable, and accessible by authorized users across different healthcare settings.

EHRs are considered global systems, because they are designed to enable secure communication between various health information systems.

Files On Computer

What is CEHRT?

If an EMR meets the standards of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), it may be described as certified electronic health record technology (CEHRT). In many cases, when someone refers to an “EHR” they are really talking about certified EHR technology. This certification is particularly important for providers who participate in the Medicare Promoting Interoperability program, or who need to exchange information with other EHR systems.

EHRs focus on the total health of the patient—going beyond standard clinical data collected in the provider’s office and inclusive of a broader view on a patient’s care.

EHR vs EMR: Similarities and Differences

Because so many health professionals, especially in private practice, use the terms EMR and EHR interchangeably, it might seem nitpicky to distinguish the terms. You might even see health IT providers use both terms (guilty!) due to the widespread conflation of the two.

But as the healthcare world moves, gradually but undeniably, toward value-based care and interoperability, you don’t want to be caught unaware of the key differences between EHRs and EMRs.

How are EHR and EMR systems similar?

The words sound alike for a reason! Both EMR and EHR systems are designed to improve patient care by streamlining access to patient records, reducing errors, and create secure, HIPAA-compliant systems for record management. 

In the past, it was less common for EMRs to include patient portal software in addition to provider-facing features. However, many modern EMR systems do offer integration with patient portals and other patient engagement tools.

What are the major differences between EHR and EMR systems?

By now, many of the differences are probably clear. A recent article by Business News Daily puts it simply:

Although you’ll often see the terms EMR and EHR used interchangeably, EMRs are technically more simplistic versions of EHRs.

There are a few key qualities of an EHR that takes it beyond the capabilities of an EMR, including:

  • Interoperability. EHRs are designed to break down information silos in the world of health and medicine, enabling greater continuity of care for patients and increasing the amount of actionable data available to providers at the individual and population levels.
  • Standardized terminology. Basically, EHRs speak the same language, which makes the exchange of information that much faster and simpler.
  • Regulation. Federal programs like the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services incentivize the adoption of certified EHR technology, to quickly move the healthcare field toward interoperable systems and value-based care.
Emr Vs Ehr Illustration

System Types and Certifications

What is an ONC-certified EHR?

An ONC-certified EHR is electronic health record software that has met and maintained the standards outlined by the ONC Health IT Certification Program, after submitting to voluntary third-party assessment.

The Certification Program was created in 2010 to establish national standards for health information technology in the U.S., and to create a directory of reliable certified health IT products that comply with federal legislation.

Not sure if your systems made the cut? Check out the Certified Health IT Product List. You can find Raintree Systems’ ONC certification status there, too!

What are the requirements for a health IT product to become ONC certified?

To be considered certified electronic health record (EHR) technology (CEHRT), an EHR system must demonstrate adherence to the ONC’s 2015 Edition Health IT Certification Criteria, 2015 Edition Cures Update, or a combination of the two.

ONC-Certified EHRs are assessed using 60 criteria, which are organized into eight categories:

  • Electronic Exchange
  • Clinical Processes
  • Care Coordination
  • Clinical Quality Measurement
  • Privacy & Security
  • Patient Engagement
  • Public Health
  • Health IT Design & Performance

Does a system need ONC certification to be considered an EHR?​

Technically, no. But in the vast majority of cases, the term EHR is synonymous with CEHRT. Exceptions include decertified EHR technology, which has not earned or has lost certification status.

Making the Choice: EMR or EHR?

Whether you’re making the transition from paper documentation or if you’ve outgrown your current EMR, it’s important for practices to choose new technology that best fits their short- and long-term goals.

What are the benefits of an EHR versus an EMR?

Both EMRs and EHRs have advantages that might appeal to different healthcare practices based on their needs, size, and goals. Here are some reasons a practice might choose one over the other:

Why a practice might choose an
EMR over an EHR:

Why a practice might choose an EHR over an EMR:

What types of healthcare organizations use EMRs vs. EHRs?

Both EMRs and EHRs can be found in various healthcare settings.

In the past, it was more common for hospital systems or larger practice groups to adopt EHRs, while private outpatient practices would adopt EMRs that were designed for their specialty.

Today, providers in all practice settings have options to choose from. Specialty EHRs, for example, offer the benefits of interoperability, with the tailor-made workflows and features that providers expect of industry-specific EMRs.

When choosing between EHR or EMR systems, the question for owners and executives becomes: “Which solution best meets the needs and goals of my patients, my clinical and admin teams, and my practice as a whole?”

EMR vs EMR: Infographic

Time is precious in the healthcare field. This EMR vs EHR infographic provides an at-a-glance view into the fundamental differences between these two types of system, including definitions, benefits, and how they relate to the future of interoperability.

A Mockup Of An Infographic Titled: &Quot;Emr Vs Ehr: What'S The Difference?&Quot; With A Neutral Gray Background And A Purple Tag At The Top Left Corner That Says &Quot;Infographic&Quot; With A Download Icon.
Clicking this image will take you to the full PDF.

Interoperability: The Future of Healthcare Systems

In healthcare, fee-for-service (FFS) payment models are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Between the increased demand for transparency and accountability in healthcare, greater emphasis on the patient experience and outcomes, and the need to eliminate wasteful and inefficient processes… The tides are a’ changing.

Where does that take us? Payers and providers alike are making the shift toward value-based care (VBC), which emphasizes patient outcomes over volume of services. To facilitate the shift and bring us into the future of healthcare, interoperability standards are necessary to create a comprehensive view of patient health.

What are usage trends in EHRs vs. EMRs?

In recent years, the U.S. Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act and Meaningful Use (now referred to as Promoting Interoperability) incentives propelled the adoption of EHR systems, emphasizing interoperability and patient access.

As of 2021, nearly 4 in 5 office-based physicians (78%) and nearly all non-federal acute care hospitals (96%) adopted a certified EHR. This marks substantial 10-year progress since 2011 when 28% of hospitals and 34% of physicians had adopted an EHR.

Trends In Emr Vs Ehr Adoption
Click to expand
(via HealthIT.gov)

There’s no denying the overwhelming movement of the healthcare field toward value-based care, but some practice setting and service types have been slow on the uptake.

A Chart Showing Adoption Of Ehr Systems By Service Type, Via Healthit.
Click to expand
(via HealthIT.gov)

Understandably so! The process of switching EMR systems can be complex and costly. However, as regulatory organizations continue to incentivize interoperability and penalize those without certified EHR technology… Practices may find that the benefits of EHR adoption outweigh the costs associated with holding off.

ONC-Certified EHRs for Rehabilitation Therapy

At Raintree Systems–provider of the only ONC-certified EHR designed for physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech-language pathology and applied behavior analysis–we design every solution with a commitment to scalable processes, security, clinical efficiency, and industry-leading compliance standards.

Our eyes are firmly set on the future of the field, and we’re not just observers—we’re setting the pace. Learn more about our award-winning platform by scheduling a demo, today.

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