Designing an EMR as More Than a Paper Chart

EMR Quote of the Day comes from a comment on one of my most popular posts:

“An EMR is not a paper chart on the computer screen and as long as users think that way, complain when it doesn’t work that way, and vendors design that way… there will be issues with electronic medical records.”

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of the, a network of leading Healthcare IT resources. The flagship blog, Healthcare IT Today, contains over 13,000 articles with over half of the articles written by John. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 20 million times.

John manages Healthcare IT Central, the leading career Health IT job board. He also organizes the first of its kind conference and community focused on healthcare marketing, Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference, and a healthcare IT conference,, focused on practical healthcare IT innovation. John is an advisor to multiple healthcare IT companies. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can be found on Twitter: @techguy.


  • That is exactly right. Think about it – do you want an electronic version of what you have now? Does that really make things better? Does it take advantage of the power of software designed to make your life easier and more efficient? Of course not. But until vendors start thinking about EMRs as a product that needs to be designed that’s all you are going to get.

    Will it meet a checklist of features and functions? Yup. Will it be useful? No.

  • Funny. Just prior to this blog I read your blog dated Feb 18, “We Bought the Wrong EMR”. In that one you linked to an article in Medical Economics, and commented that it was a “little hard to read”. I followed the link, and I too had a terrible time reading what was a good article! The problem was that they tried to make an electronic document appear the same as if we were reading the print version in a magazine.

    In effect, that’s the same problem that you point out in today’s blog about how some EMR’s are designed to mimic paper records. I guess somehow there’s this assumption that we’ll be more comfortable if the electronic version has a familiar look and feel. Unfortunately, such a practice ultimately puts a stranglehold on the ability of the technology to truly expand its usefulness, and in some cases it’s even worse than the paper version.

    With all the regulations and protocols in healthcare, many in the field tend to become creatures of habit. And no doubt this goes a long ways toward vendors responding to the perceived needs. However, it’s my prediction that those perceived needs will quickly change and users will begin to ask, “Why can’t my EMR … ?”

    Just another example of why there’s no replacement for a well thought-out self-analysis and selection process.

  • Thomas,
    Wow, that’s an amazing connection. Oh the irony of it all. That magazine interface is such an amazing parallel to EMR interfaces.

  • […] The interesting thing about Shareable Ink is that they provide such an interesting middle ground between a technical solution and continuation of paper. I remember about 5 years ago when I heard someone describe the perfect clinical documentation system. It was completely flexible. Required little to no training. Supported every possible documentation style. etc etc etc. Then, they acknowledged that what was being described was the paper chart. It was then that I recognized that while EMR can provide some benefits that paper charts can’t provide, paper charts also had some advantages that would be difficult to provide using an EMR. (See also this post about EMR’s being designed as more than a paper chart). […]

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