Frequently when working with staff and providers in an office about a change to their computer system, I find they use the terms EMR (Electronic Medical Record) and EHR (Electronic Health Record) interchangeably.  In many cases this is fair, as both they offer similar features. Both allow providers to keep electronic records of patient charts, including patient information, problem lists, medication histories, and documentation of patient visits. Both offer the advantage of a more effective way of easy access to all of a patients information than digging through rows and rows of charts dating back several years.

But the concept of “EHR” implies something more than just a computer storing charts. It implies a patient-centric system that, in the words of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology focuses “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.” The difference is not in the items present, but rather in the capabilities available to an EHR user. A successful EHR stores its data remotely, and is accessed by the provider using a cloud system. Therefore, the provider can access records from anywhere. This allows documentation within the examining room as well as the office, and the ability to review patient results and requests via internet even when away from the office. A good EHR will also allow information exchange between practices.

But the term patient centric implies that the patient can play a greater role in managing their care. A second area of focus for the HITECH stage 2 Meaningful Use rules is the concept of patient interaction. In stage 1, providers were required to provide patients with a clinical summary to take home, including a list of their problems, medications, vitals and the plan. But as we move forward, implementing stage 2 of meaningful use will encourage a system in which patients can access their own medical records without having to wait for the doctor’s office to send them. They should be able to view their records and results immediately, and to deliver it to another provider to help with their care. Whether they will take advantage of these options is another question, one practices need to consider in embracing new ways to further patient care under this new system.

Further Reading:

Office of the National Health Care Coordinator:

SPMS response to meaningful use stage 2.

“The End of EMR”


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