What is the real purpose of an EMR?

Ask anyone what the difference is between an EMR and EHR.  Chances are you will get mixed responses.

EMR Defined

My definition of an EMR is that it is a historical record of encounters or interventions where healthcare professionals can see data and information, as it was, at the time it was recorded.

For data, the ideal scenario is to be able to view data on the form versions that were in service at the time the data was collected. For information, an EMR must accommodate a wide range of EMR attachments (MS Word, PDF, spreadsheets, voice/audio recordings, faxed material, pictures).

All encounter/intervention data and information appended to an EMR must be tagged with a date/timestamp and electronic user “signature”.   The user should have no discretion re date/time tagging with the result that data collected off-line three days ago and input today will have a Today/Now time stamp. This is consistent with the general rule that “if it’s not in the chart, then it does not exist”.  As for user “signatures”, these can be applied automatically but EMR system recordings need to accommodate dual “signatures” where one person is recording data on behalf of another.

Purpose of an EMR

The purpose of an EMR is to provide decision support to healthcare professionals in respect of the rendering of healthcare services to an individual patient, and accommodate data exchange.

It’s important to understand that EMR recordings at a practical level consist of a mix of digital and non-digital data/information.  The usual presentation is reverse chronological order with hyperlinks that post forms that post data or post patient record attachments (the latter are often generically called “attached documents”).   The presentation must be seamless.

Once in, the content must not be editable.   Some EMRs accommodate after-the-event “sticky notes” .  These are a good idea for preventing medical/administrative errors.

Access to EMR content should be on a strict need-to-know basis. This poses a serious problem where organizations on the one hand go to great lengths within EMRs to restrict and control access to data but then allows users to view documents stored in 3rd party Enterprise Content Management (ECM) environments under different access rules.

For HIPAA, a prudent policy is to log all accesses to EMR content – this means taking note of viewing of content accesses, not just content viewing/editing accesses.  If, as, and when an inadvertent disclosure of patient data occurs, it is important to be able to know who had access to specific content over a specific timeframe.

Recent legislation requires that EMR content be made available to authorized 3rd parties (i.e. patients, insurance, regulatory organizations). Each “subscriber” is likely to need a different subset, and, for the time being at least, there are two standards for clinical data exchange (CCD, CCR) and many “flavors” of each.

EHR Defined

EHRs serve a different purpose from EMRs. Whereas an EMR has a singular focus on individual patients, EHRs consolidate data across multiple patients and play an pivotal  role in b2b data exchange.  This requires that publishers package data for shipment to EHRs using “industry standard” formats and that the data be protected during transport.

Hybrid EMRs/EHRs

Most recently, hybrid EMRs/EHRs seem to be coming on the market.

These are typically used by managed care organizations that have their own clinics, but there is no technical reason why a community of member agencies could not satisfy their EMR needs at a hosted EMR/EHR facility.

Most hybrid EMRs/EHRs require the use of common workflows/forms at the EMR which greatly restricts their value.  The happy scenario is where each member agency can build/maintain their own workflows and forms but enjoy advantages of scale.

About kwkeirstead@civerex.com

Management consultant and process control engineer (MSc EE) with a focus on bridging the gap between operations and strategy in the areas of critical infrastructure protection, major crimes case management, healthcare services delivery, and b2b/b2c/b2d transactions. (C) 2010-2021 Karl Walter Keirstead, P. Eng. All rights reserved. The opinions expressed here are those of the author, and are not connected with Jay-Kell Technologies Inc, Civerex Systems Inc. (Canada), Civerex Systems Inc. (USA) or CvX Productions Number of accessing countries 2010-2020 : 168
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5 Responses to What is the real purpose of an EMR?

  1. Pingback: What is the real purpose of an EMR? | Digital Health Journal

  2. So EHR is when one patient moves to another doctor? Or is it like, when one hospital is going through an acquisition/merger with another?


    • One definition is “An EMR is a narrower view of a patient’s medical history, while an EHR is a more comprehensive report of the patient’s overall health. Here are a few more ways EMRs and EHRs differ: An EMR is mainly used by providers for diagnosis and treatment. EMRs are not designed to be shared outside the individual practice.”

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The best example of practical use of EHRs (for us) was an e-hub we built for an MCO where they wanted all of their member clinics to have, on hand, a history of all patient transactions with all specialists etc the patient had seen. Clearly, the patient had to expressly agree to this protocol, in writing, The idea was that if a member clinic had an appointment with a patient today, the clinic would get an automatic consolidated download of all encounters the patient had with others, from the time of the last appointment. Everyone agreed that with 100 plus participating clinics, it would be impractical to broadcast details of each encounter to all participating clinics. The project never got beyond the pilot stage because the customer was bought out by another MCO.


  4. Vikram Singh says:

    Benefits of EMR have been outlined. EMR and EMR are clearly defined so that masses can understand easily. Thanks for posting such a useful information.


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