Medical records have always been a challenge for both patients and health care professionals to manage. Keeping track of these thick bundles of records and transferring them from one doctor to the next is a far from perfect system that results in delays, lapses in communication and, in some cases, records that go missing for good. That’s why the rise of electronic medical records systems is revolutionizing the health care industry and expediting the processes of managing, transferring and referencing patient information.

Electronic medical records, also known as EMR, are often referred to alongside electronic health records (EHR) and the terms are frequently used interchangeably. While the systems behind these records management platforms are very similar, there are some subtle differences. In the end, though, both systems are bringing rapid changes to the healthcare industry and to the benefit of patients across the country.

The difference between EMR and EHR

At first glance, EMR and EHR may appear to be identical, but the difference between these two forms of electronic records concerns the types of records that are available on these systems. The inclusivity of electronic health records is much greater than what is available on electronic medical records systems. With EMR, all health-related information is input, managed and consulted by licensed clinicians and staff working with a single organization. For a single hospital, for example, this platform is a simple, closed-circuit system that can be used to manage the health records of patients that have received care at that facility. Electronic health records, by contrast, present data and information gathered from a variety of sources. In addition to hosting the information provided by their current clinic or facility administering medical care, information can also be gathered from a wide range of facilities, such as labs, and the information can come in a greater array of forms, presenting referrals, consultations and other clinical results that may have been obtained at places other than their current clinic. Consequently, EMR software is owned by whatever medical facility has invested in this technology. EHR, meanwhile, is a large-scale service opted in to by many different organizations.
The benefits of using electronic records management systems instead of paper-based records management is extensive. First off, all records are clearly legible since they are typed out — no more problems deciphering the chicken-scratch doctors pass off as penmanship. The electronic staff saves on transcription costs and won’t need to employ as many people on the medical records staff, which is a huge savings for large organizations. More physical space is opened up by digitizing health records and charts are accessible by multiple parties at once from different locations. Various lab results could be delivered instantly, eliminating the time lag between finding the results and delivering them to doctors. And, with some organizations slow to convert to medical records, younger doctors may gravitate toward the clinics and medical centers that have already implemented electronic records, which takes a great deal of tedium out of their workday.

Breaking down the benefits

Health professionals should expect paper records to be completely phased out in the future and replaced by electronic records. The question in the short term is how much organizations value this new technology. As the benefits have demonstrated, electronic records management could quickly yield big improvements for clinicians, staff and patients.

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