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EHR vs. EMR. How to Pick the Right Software For Your Medical Practice?

Over time, the technology that doctors, medical practices, and hospitals rely upon have become increasingly complex. While Electronic Medical Records (EMR) and Electric Health Records (EHR) used to be synonyms, they have become more and more differentiated as the needs of clinicians and government regulations have evolved. Technology has kept up with these shifts by adding new and different features. Selecting the appropriate system is critical for a medical practice. At their core, the purpose of both EMR and EHR is to maintain documentation related to patient health, medical procedures, and medication.

EMRs serve the same function as basic paperwork, but digitized and stored in computers. They cover the medical history of a patient (family history, diagnoses, etc), and treatment history.

Clinicians use this data to look for trends in patient health, when checkups or vaccinations are due, and for quality assurance purposes in their practice. Unfortunately, EMRs make it difficult to transfer data. Often patient records must be printed and physically mailed or faxed.

EHRs offer similar functionality as EMRs, but with significantly expanded capacity to monitor how information about care is shared and analyzed. EHRs are designed to make data sharing easy with other healthcare providers like laboratories or specialist clinicians. Essentially, EHRs can communicate with each other, allowing each provider involved in a patient's care able to see relevant data about their medical history.

With this in mind, when does it make sense for a medical practice to utilize a EMR vs. an EHR? Despite the overlap in functionality between the two, there are radical implications for a practitioner based on the differences. For instance, in order to qualify for Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement a practitioner's records must meet a minimum level of interoperability as governed by the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015. If a provider is planning to offer its services to the elderly or a lower-income population, they will likely be depending on Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, and so EHRs would be essential.

However, if you are a younger solo practitioner in a specialty with cash-pay opportunities, you may not be relying on Medicaid or Medicare reimbursement. If that's the case, EMRs tend to be cheaper and much easier to use for providers and patients alike. A good example would be psychiatrists, who often operate solo practices and do not often have to share large amounts of data with several outside providers like laboratory services or imaging specialists.

In conclusion, the choice between Electronic Medical Records or Electronic Health records is heavily dependent upon the stage that a practice is in, its budget range, its need for interoperability with other providers, and also its need for Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement. EMRs are cheaper and simpler to use, but for providers requiring more functionality, EHRs provide greater interoperability and reimbursement opportunities. It is a decision that each provider must make based on their individual needs and specific circumstances.