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Electronic Medical Records vs. Electronic Health Records: Revisited


Four years ago, we posed the questions, “Should you implement an Electronic Medical Record (EMR) or an Electronic Health Record (EHR)? Do you know the difference? Is there a difference?”

At that time, the digital medical records market was nascent and fragmented, and the terminology used to describe the technologies had not yet been standardized. This caused confusion about interoperability specifications and appropriate Meaningful Use standards, among other issues.

Today, many medical professionals understandably continue to use the two acronyms interchangeably because, after all, they both describe the digitization of medical records. But at least a rough distinction has emerged. As health IT journalist Don Fluckinger explains:

[An] EHR seems to refer to a record that can be shared back and forth and amended among multiple providers, while EMR seems to refer to the ‘home base’ of a patient’s data with his/her primary care physician.

Now that the industry has matured, we see a very clear shift in adoption of terminology by vendors, the government and medical practitioners, as well as perhaps the general public. It looks like EHR will be the winner.

Shifts Over Four Years

Google Trends data gives us useful insights into how people describe what they’re looking for. Four years ago, an analysis of the data showed that four times as many searches were performed for “electronic medical record” than for “electronic health record.”

This has changed since 2008, however. “EHR” is now searched for almost as frequently as “EMR,” with “EHR” showing a clear upward trend in popularity while “EMR” has remained relatively flat. In addition, the gap has narrowed slightly between “electronic health records” and “electronic medical records.”

Figure 1: Google search frequency by keyword phrase, 2008-2012.

Software Vendors Align with Government Terminology

The choice of terminology by software vendors mirrors Google’s search data trends. Vendors are increasingly standardizing on “EHR” to describe their offerings (Figure 2).

EMR vs EHR Terminology - 2012

Terminology Aside

The terms we use to describe the digitization of medical records isn’t what’s important. After all, “In five years we will have different, more precise terms. The ‘electronic’ part of the acronym will be superfluous, for example,” says Fluckinger.

Seeing the vendors, government, and medical practitioners all begin to adopt the same terminology shows that the EHR industry is beginning to unify and mature. Paul Winandy, CEO of WebPT (a provider of Web-based EMRs for physical therapists), summarized it nicely: “[It] doesn’t matter if you call it an EHR or an EMR. Any system that effectively transitions healthcare providers from paper charts to electronically capture patient care will advance healthcare in the U.S.”

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Nate Bagley

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Nate Bagley is a contributor to Software Advice.

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