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EHRs vs. EMRs

February 16, 2009
by Ron Hunsicker
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Are you Confused?

Electronic Health Records are not the same as electronic medical records

There have been a lot of words uttered, emails sent and papers written about Electronic Health Records, as if we all understand what that means. Suddenly the economic stimulus bill has money in it for EHR work and everyone wants access to those monies, so Electronic Health Records have become popular. But what are they? What needs to happen to get to an Electronic Health Record? Whatever happened to electronic medical records?

Most of this began on April 27, 2004 when President Bush signed an executive order committing the country to move toward an electronic health record system by 2014. The time line for this movement was 10 years. They key was to create an electronic health record that was interoperabil in nature so that it could integrate all the various health records currently kept on individuals; provide some transparency in pricing and improve the quality data and overall quality and efficiency of care. A pretty tall order, but then we had 10 years. Now it is 2009 and we only have 5 years to get to 2014!

Whenever there is any talk about the cost of health care or of health care reform, the fist step taken is to see if there can be some cost savings in the current system. This Electronic Health Record is one such initiative. It is believed that there are significant cost savings within the current system and for most, cost savings as opposed to changing the system is always more attractive.

But let’s step back a few steps and see if we can unravel this very complicated and potentially revolutionary concept. It was not all that long ago when all health records, including the records kept on addiction patients were hand written. Diagnosis, treatment plans, progress notes, staffing notes, etc, were all hand written in a sometimes large folder that stayed with the organization that provided the treatment. Sometimes the History and Physical, the “aftercare” plan and a few other pagers were faxed to another provider when the patient showed up for treatment and the appropriate release forms were completed.

Then all of a sudden the electronic medical record burst onto the scene. Instead of hand writing all the information, it was entered by a key board or an electronic pen and we had this record that could be accessed by appropriate staff in an organization that contained all the information pertaining to the individual’s treatment for addiction. For many, this meant significant financial resources invested in systems that would ultimately integrate the clinical and the billing functions of an organization. For some this has been a painful process as software vendors tend to have a short self life and selecting a software vendor may not mean that they are around five years later. This is where we are today. Many organizations have some sort of electronic medical record that serves their organization well!