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An Intro to Electronic Medical Records (EMR) and Electronic Health Records (EHR): Definitions, Benefits, and Patient Experience Strategies

Intro to EMR and EHR

What is EMR and EHR?

In recent years, technology advancements, medical sophistication, strict regulations, a global pandemic, and shifting consumer behaviors have created massive disruption for the healthcare industry. One of the most impactful evolutions of the last decade has involved the healthcare industry’s transition from paper to digital record keeping. Historically, patient records were used and stored as paper files, often saved physically in filing cabinets for up to 10 years – and sometimes even longer. But in today’s rapidly evolving healthcare landscape, the way physicians store, manage and use health records has evolved. Everything that was traditionally found in a patient’s paper chart is now available digitally in an electronic medical record. A patient’s electronic record includes patient history, diagnoses, allergies, physician’s notes, medications, lab results, and more.

It's helpful to add some historical context. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, required all public and private healthcare providers and other eligible professionals to adopt and demonstrate “meaningful use” of electronic medical records in order to maintain existing Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement levels. Since then, additional legal stipulations and rapid digitization have driven thousands of healthcare organizations to invest billions of dollars to deploy and integrate EMR software and properly train healthcare workers to use it.

Electronic medical record (EMR) and electronic health record (EHR) systems manage patient medical and health records and aid in optimizing patient care and experiences. These systems operate as a central hub of data for healthcare organizations. Common EMR vendors include Epic, Cerner, Meditech, Evident, Allscripts, and others.

EMR vs. EHR – What’s the Difference?

Many healthcare providers use the terms EMR and EHR interchangeably to describe healthcare technology systems that store patient data. Often, in day-to-day care settings, clinicians will even forego referring to the technology as EMR or EHR all together, and will instead use the vendor’s name – like Epic or Cerner. However, other healthcare providers note the distinct differences between EHR and EMR.

Technically speaking, an electronic medical record (EMR) is a single practice’s digital version of a patient chart that details patient history, diagnoses, diseases, medications prescribed, and treatments provided by the practice.

An electronic health record (EHR) is also a digital version of the patient chart, and has all the same information as an EMR, but on a more comprehensive scale, providing a holistic view of the patient’s medical history across multiple providers. In other words, electronic health records are designed to be shared from provider to provider, so they can instantly access a patient’s history and information.

Ultimately, the main difference between an EMR and an EHR is that an EMR is a more siloed view of a patient’s medical history, whereas an EHR is a more comprehensive view of the patient’s history that’s shareable from practice to practice. But, in practice EMR and EHR are most commonly used to identify the same thing.

Who Uses EMR and EHR Systems and How Are They Leveraged?

Clinicians, doctors, patients, nurses, and administrators use the information provided within an EMR system and interface with the system daily. Most systems are sourced and managed by the healthcare organization’s IT team.

Today nearly all healthcare organizations across the U.S. have deployed some version of an EMR or EHR within their medical practice. However, the systems’ capabilities vary from practice to practice based on the modernization, sophistication, and integration of the system across the organization.

EMR and EHR systems are utilized to:

  • View a patient’s medical history
  • Track a patient’s health
  • Identify trends
  • Assist in making medical decisions
  • Improve efficiencies
  • Optimize patient care
  • Bill insurance companies for payment
  • Provide required documentation

When an EMR or EHR is properly leveraged, the sheer volume of data available within the system offers numerous benefits for patients and providers alike.

The Benefits of EHR and EMR for Healthcare Providers and Patients

Appropriate, high-quality, effective, and efficient healthcare relies on accurate and robust data found within an EMR or EHR system. When data is accurate, secure, and accessible across an entire healthcare organization, healthcare outcomes improve tremendously. The key benefits to digital patient records as opposed to paper files include:

  • Efficient transmission of patient information to other medical facilities to create seamless healthcare experiences
  • Data accessibility for all healthcare employees
  • Data accessibility for healthcare patients (e.g., My Chart view)
  • Accuracy, security, and the ability to double check records
  • Improved identification of trends over time that may influence patient care and treatment
  • Higher efficiencies and systematic improvements
  • Better activated and engaged patients for improved care
  • Improved long-term care and management for conditions like diabetes, hypertension or breast and colon cancer

While EMRs and EHRs provide numerous benefits for patients and providers alike, some EMR systems face interoperability challenges that prevent providers from accessing the information they need to provide optimal treatment. This interoperability barrier can trickle down and create frustrating experiences for patients.

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Common Challenges of EMR and EHR Systems

CHALLENGE 1: Lack of communication from provider to provider

One of the most common pain points of EMR systems is their lack of communication from provider to provider. This key challenge can create issues for both the provider and the patient.

Let’s take healthcare in the Minneapolis and St. Paul area as an example:

The providers at Nicollet, Health Partners and Mayo Clinic can all see and access each other’s records. A built-in program called Care Everywhere gives providers access to view required patient information, and empowers patients to seek proper care at clinics around the area. This connection point amounts to a seamless, uninterrupted experience for a patient who, for example, sees a primary doctor in Maple Grove, MN, and frequents a foot and ankle specialist in Eagan, MN.

However, what would happen if that Minnesota resident booked a road trip and got in a car accident along the way? What if that patient found themselves in the emergency room at a hospital in Des Moines, Iowa that doesn’t participate in Care Everywhere? Without the proper communication between EMR systems, the patient will most likely need to relive and re-explain the accident to multiple doctors – a frustrating experience at best, and a traumatic experience at worst. Missing documentation, fragmented patient history, and siloed data are the difficult and frustrating outcomes of EMR systems that don’t speak to one another.

CHALLENGE 2: Patients struggle to engage with their own record

Beyond the inability of EMR systems to communicate with each other, another common pain point of EMRs is that patients can have a very hard time engaging with their own record through MyChart. Patient activation is key to fostering long-term health, and if a patient doesn’t know how to access or use his/her own data, that can be problematic. This is especially true of patients managing chronic conditions like diabetes, breast cancer, colon cancer, and others.

When patients do not or cannot engage with their health systems, they fail to schedule routine screenings and physicals. They may not follow up on their care after a diagnosis, or they may not seek treatment for problems that might require emergency care. Simply put, a non-activated patient is not seeking preventative care or follow-up treatment for health problems.

CHALLENGE 3: Lack of integration with other technologies

EMRs host a massive amount of data and that data needs to be referenced by other systems like your CRM or contact center system.

Bridging an EMR with a contact center technology solution like EHRConnect, provides healthcare agents with a more intimate understanding of patients and empowers them to provide leading-edge patient experiences online and offline. EHRConnect transforms the contact center into a single communication platform and serves real-time patient data to your contact center agents from your electronic health records. Ultimately, this integration allows you to centralize your patient communications and take control of where, when, and how you communicate with your patients.

Integration between your EMR and CRM helps you elevate patient engagement by bringing together data from multiple sources. CRMs give providers insight into the entire patient experience journey, and are foundational to designing a digital front door patient experience strategy. A digital front door strategy enables easy appointment scheduling, billing and payment capabilities, automated reminders for appointments, personalized communications, referrals, and more.

Effectively Leveraging Your EMR is Step One to Delivering Seamless Patient Experiences

As patient expectations for seamless experiences continue to rise, it’s more important than ever for healthcare organizations to gain control of their data. Effectively leveraging a sophisticated EMR alongside other technologies is step one to unlocking the golden record in healthcare and can help providers enable a seamless and optimized patient experience.

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