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An EHR is an electronic health record. An EMR is an electronic medical record. The two different kinds of records have different purposes, different scope, and fall under different legal requirements.


American Medicine has made the transition from paper files to digital recordkeeping.

With considerable protest, American health providers have replaced their hard-copy files with digital records. Doctor offices, health clinics, hospitals, and nursing facilities, along with the federal government, have invested billions of dollars in funding the software, hardware, and training necessary to power the changeover.

The government-mandated transition to electronic record systems has not occurred without some confusion in terminology. Numerous news reports refer to electronic health records, EHRs, and electronic medical records, EMRs, as if they were the same. They are not.

What's the difference between an EHR and an EMR?

An electronic health record (EHR) is a digital snapshot of a patient’s entire medical history. It includes a patient’s current chart, but it is designed for medical practitioners in different healthcare facilities to share.

EHRs include everything doctors need to know about the health history of a patient, from family history to immunization history to allergies and procedures. EHRs contain radiological imaging and lab reports.

An electronic medical record (EMR) is a digital snapshot of a patient’s chart as it is maintained by a single healthcare provider. It contains a patient history, but it focuses on the activities of a particular primary care provider (physician or nurse practitioner), specialist, dentist, surgeon, or clinic.

EMRs make it easier for health care providers to track the progress of a patient over time. They facilitate timely reminders of appointments and periodic checkups. Many providers agree that they make better care possible.

It is not hard to grasp the distinction between electronic health records and electronic medical records if you consider the difference between the terms “health” and “medical.” A health record holds an expansive view of the patient’s medical history. A medical record is limited to a single provider’s view of the patient’s medical history.

Here are some more ways the two kinds of medical records differ:

  • Electronic health records are intended to be shared by numerous providers at multiple points of service.
  • Electronic medical records are intended to be used by providers at a single point of service.
  • Electronic health records enable a patient’s medical history to travel with them across specialty practices, labs, pharmacies, emergency rooms, radiological facilities, and state lines.

Both kinds of electronic records are beneficial.

Both electronic health records and electronic medical records have resulted in measurable improvements in medical care.

  • Complete information means more accurate diagnoses.
  • Medical information can be updated quickly and accurately.
  • Doctors do not have to do as many addendums to records.
  • Patient records are clear and complete. The doctor’s handwriting no longer limits them.
  • Shared information can eliminate duplicate tests to save time and money and help doctors make timely diagnoses.
  • Broader access to patient records reduces the risk of inappropriate prescriptions and drug interactions.
  • Electronic record systems can be used to encourage patient participation in care.

No specialty is affected more by electronic recordkeeping technology than radiology.

Radiologists are prime targets of cost-cutting efforts by government payers. The most common reason radiologists have to bill twice for their services is “under reading,” failure to appreciate details of imaging because of lack of complete information about the patient. Electronic medical records and electronic health records reduce the risk of under reading, resulting in improved accuracy of diagnosis and lower costs. One study in the American Journal of Roentgenology implied that complete information through electronic record systems could reduce the cost of radiologist review by 16 percent.

Experts agree that electronic recordkeeping could be improved, but adoption of the technology has resulted in measurable reductions in the cost of care and significant improvements in patient outcomes. Making the switch to electronic recordkeeping has proven to be a worthwhile investment in our nation’s healthy future.

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Chinh Phan

Author Chinh Phan

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