Skip to Main Content

At a time when technology is embedded in our daily lives, it may be surprising that some doctors still use paper health records. Meaningful Use incentivized many to transition from paper records to EMRs (Electronic Medical Records) and EHRs (Electronic Health Records.) But according to the most recent available data from the CDC/National Center for Health Statistics, over 14 percent of office-based physicians are still using paper.

These holdouts give various reasons for not using electronic systems for health and medical records. From cost, to implementation, to learning curves. However, without this transition, complete interoperability is not possible.

Read how an urgent care center switched from paper records to an EMR >>

In healthcare, interoperability gives providers access to all medical data for their patients. Most importantly, the data, security, and accuracy of interoperability improves patient outcomes.

Although the terms EMR and EHR are often used interchangeably, there are technically significant differences. We’ll define the differences between the two systems, explain when each should be used, and cover some of the most relevant benefits to providers, patients, and healthcare in general.

What is an EMR (Electronic Medical Record)?

An EMR is essentially a digital version of a single patient’s medical chart. The EMR is primarily used by providers for diagnosis and treatment. It includes:

  • Medical history
  • Immunization dates
  • List of allergies
  • Visit record
  • Diagnosis
  • Treatment plan

Specific medical data is at the heart of an EMR. An effective EMR streamlines the charting process by learning provider preferences over time and making smart suggestions about diagnosis and treatment based on historical data. The EMR stores patient data over time, allowing providers quick access to important information that may affect treatment. It also serves as a legal record of an office visit.

An EMR effectively eliminates paper charts. Although EMR use is generally restricted to intra-office communication, it can be shared with other clinics, labs, or service providers.

Learn 10 ways to improve staff transition to a new EMR >>

What is an EHR (Electronic Health Record)?

If an EMR is a snapshot of a patient’s medical history, the EHR is the whole movie.

EHRs are reliant on EMRs and are essentially built over time, pulling in all the data about a patient’s medical history, including:

  • Past medical history
  • Demographic information
  • Immunization dates
  • Blood type
  • List of allergies
  • Lab results
  • Radiology images
  • Progress notes
  • Encounter notes
  • Physician recommendations
  • Diagnoses
  • Medication history
  • Past procedures
  • Data imported from personal wellness devices

This feature film of a patient’s medical record is fluid, repeatedly updated with each healthcare touchpoint. With the constant changes and the inclusion of more and more records, the benefits of EHRs will increase for both patients and practitioners.

Make EHR selection easier with these 50 questions >>

What’s the Difference Between an EMR and EHR?

If you’re skimming for quick answers and just want a high-level overview of the difference between an EMR system and HER software, this table might help.

EMR vs EHR Comparison Chart

When to use an EHR vs EMR: is Patient Information the Only Consideration?

EHRs are robust solutions that provide the kind of information well-suited for larger systems like hospitals. We speak to the EHR a lot here because these healthcare giants represent a significant percentage of potential software users. However, there is a very specific instance when EMRs are superior to EHRs: urgent care.

Episodic care is very different from other types of patient care, and one of the biggest disadvantages of an EHR is it doesn’t support the efficiency that is vital to on-demand healthcare. An EMR and practice management (PM) system — especially one that is purpose-built for urgent care — provides a workflow that makes sense for these users. Customized templates exclude extraneous fields and other workflow bottlenecks that slow down the patient journey.

In an Experity case study, Dr. James Yost of CRH Healthcare reported that charting with the Experity EMR allows him to complete charting in about 45 seconds compared to the four or five minutes it used to take.

The more patients and urgent care can see in a day, the more revenue potential they have. That means the goal for many of these clinics is to have a door-to-door time of about 45 minutes. And that can be extremely challenging when using an EHR in an on-demand setting.

Learn more about EMRs in How to Choose the Best EMR for Urgent Care

Benefits of Electronic Health Records for Providers

Shareability is the greatest strength and benefit of electronic health records. On-demand access to patients’ EHRs helps inform decisions and coordinate care — benefitting both providers and their patients.

Instant access for providers

A patient’s EHR provides critical data across all providers simultaneously, giving them on-demand access to this data via a computer, tablet, or phone from anywhere in the world. Not only is patient  information instantly available, but it contains the most current individual healthcare records.

Simultaneous availability

More often than not, a patient is under the care of multiple authorized providers, all who track their history and other relevant patient health information. In situations where doctors from different clinics or even geographic locations are collaborating on a patient’s care, sharing information can be critical to determining the optimal treatment course for the best possible outcome.

Better results management

When providers can receive lab results and x-rays electronically and store them electronically, patient data is much easier to manage and retrieve, enabling better patient care.

Increased accuracy

EMRs can increase the accuracy of patient data. Paper records can be easily lost or misplaced, and when information is copied from one form to another by staff, it’s easy to make mistakes or leave forms incomplete. Because EMRs are automated, many routine tasks associated with charting, ordering tests, and billing access existing data, reducing the need for duplicate entry and eliminating inconsistencies.

Quick, secure data transfer

EHRs make it possible for healthcare providers and practitioners to transfer data quickly and securely. Data can be shared not only among various doctors or clinics but between departments — especially important in medical situations where time is critical.

Improved communication and efficiency

Clinic staff can be more productive when providers and other service providers communicate seamlessly through technology. When appointments are scheduled, orders are sent, and insurance claims submitted, more data is added to the record making patient data quick and easy to access when doctors, nurses, and other care providers need it to make critical decisions. Patients and doctors can access accurate records to have conversations about medical history and prior procedures without relying on memories or contacting other care providers.

Better patient care

In the end, providing the best care for patients is the highest priority. Through the use of EHRs, doctors and other healthcare service providers are better informed with full access to a patient’s comprehensive medical records. With up-to-date patient data about previous medical conditions and injuries, lab and test results, and ongoing health issues, doctors are better equipped to provide accurate diagnoses, recommend effective treatment, and follow-up as needed.

Reputation protection

People expect instant access to their information. They also trust their healthcare providers — people with the most advanced degree possible — to treat them with the most modern techniques and knowledge available. If their clinic is still using paper records, patients may wonder what else is outdated?

Benefits of Electronic Health Records for Patients

Patients are the biggest winners when it comes to electronic medical records.

A patient’s EHR is a comprehensive record of their medical care. When doctors have access to this cache of information, it empowers their choices about how best to treat short-term illness, chronic disease and everything in between — resulting in a better outcome. Of all the ways EHRs benefit patients, this is number one. But it isn’t the only reason EHRs make sense.

Because patients have full access to their records, they too can access the information they need to make better healthcare choices. There’s no need to worry about changing providers, visiting a provider while traveling, or visiting an urgent care when a primary care provider is unavailable. Transferring and accessing electronic records is quick and secure.

Communication is easier when both patient and providers have full access to all patient information. The availability of timelines, treatment details, the effectiveness of specific medications, and a broad overview of mental, physical, and emotional health helps to effectively guide the healthcare journey.

In situations where quick decisions are a matter of life and death, access to a patient’s EMR gives doctors the data they need to make the right choices quickly and with confidence.

How EMRs/EHRs Affect the Future of Healthcare

Technology is no longer something separate from our everyday lives, but instead, something that is as ubiquitous as the air we breathe. There is perhaps no better use of technology than improving the way we deliver medical care. If we are to see the transformations that are possible across every sector of the healthcare industry, we must face a few challenges and find solutions.

Interoperability is one of the biggest bridges yet to cross. From doctor to patient and lab to hospital, technology must improve the way our devices and systems communicate. EHRs must be designed to work together for the good of the community. Interoperability standards and the implementation of best practices and standards will continue to guide healthcare and medical technology toward this overarching goal.

The fine line between EMRs and EHRs is ambiguous — many EMRs record some of the same information as EHRs. Others are specifically an electronic chart. Advancing technology and increased participation by patients and providers will continue to change the way healthcare is delivered and foster even more innovation.

As medical records become increasingly digitized, the development of a comprehensive, secure health information exchange (HIE) will provide the healthcare community data needed to identify trends, trace the efficacy of new treatments and medications, share successes, collaborate, and improve healthcare for all.

Want to learn more about how an EMR will transform your urgent care?

Explore Experity’s EMR/PM

Sign Up for the Urgent Care Minute

Join over 20,000 healthcare professionals who receive our monthly newsletter.