EHR or EMR? And Does It Matter?


The Electronic Health Record (EHR) is a longitudinal electronic record of patient health information generated by one or more encounters in any care delivery setting. Included in this information are patient demographics, progress notes, problems, medications, vital signs, past medical history, immunizations, laboratory data and radiology reports. The EHR automates and streamlines the clinician’s workflow. The EHR has the ability to generate a complete record of a clinical patient encounter – as well as supporting other care-related activities directly or indirectly via interface – including evidence-based decision support, quality management, and outcomes reporting.


An electronic medical record (EMR) is a computerized medical record created in an organization that delivers care, such as a hospital and doctor’s surgery. Electronic medical records tend to be a part of a local stand-alone health information system that allows storage, retrieval and modification of records.

So, there you have ’em — the two major terms that compete for attention in our business.  The top definition comes from HIMSS and the second, from Wikipedia.

In the circles where I travel, “EMR” and “EHR” are used interchangeably, but not everyone agrees they should be.  In my mind, for example, the two terms shouldn’t exist — only EMR does the trick.

Why?  To my knowledge, the term “medical record” has a widely-accepted definition, but the term “health record” has no formal place in medical care. And there’s no reason to toss an imprecisely-defined term into the mix when we’re struggling to define so much about digital healthcare. (For what it’s worth, Wikipedia defines the EHR as an “evolving concept.”)

Good Lord, toss in the even more poorly defined term “PHR” and you’ve officially created a conceptual traffic loop which could create traffic crashes for years to come.

But  I know not everyone cares about terminology the way a slightly-obsessed editor does.  What do you folks think?  Do you care which acronym the industry uses?  Does it matter?

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

7 Comments

  • Amongst the million other acronyms used every day in terms of health information I completely agree that we can surely live with one less. This is especially true when speaking of an issue as confusing to some as CPR (computerized patient records)….oops, I mean EMR. I say we simplify this thing and get rid of unnecessary acronyms and other health information jargon . Great article.

  • My understanding of the core difference between EMR and EHR is that EHR are fully interoperable while EMR can continue the trend of information silos. It’s a difference in how the data is stored. EMR is confined to a single practice; EHR is shared across different providers. Martin Sizemore from our team wrote a great piece recently called, “Could EMR software make healthcare worse?” that deals with the lack of interoperability in EMR. http://bit.ly/e9nHIf

  • If you’re interested in more on the subject, including an extensive list of references from around the world, check out this blog post: EMR, EHR, and PHR – Why all the confusion? http://bit.ly/doqwde

  • The words “health” and “medicine” are usually associated with different, almost opposite, ideas — “health” with not needing a doctor, and “medicine” with treatment, and a general lack of health.

    An ‘EMR’ is more of an ‘Electronic Un-health Record’ given that an encounter with a healthcare provider more often than not is an indication of poor health.

    TJL

  • CORRECTED LINK: Somehow, the link I had in the comment above went to the wrong site. My apologies. Let me try this again:

    If you’re interested in more on the subject, including an extensive list of references from around the world, check out this blog post: EMR, EHR, and PHR – Why all the confusion?
    http://bit.ly/gwpTX5

  • I keep a medical record; if I go electronic, it’s an EMR. I see people use EHR as a synonym, but I would have thought an EHR would be patient-centered, i e, a collection of EMR data to which the patient has the key.

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