What is an Electronic Health Record (EHR)?

Billions of bytes of healthcare data are generated annually. The human resources it would take to catalog patient information on paper are profound, storage alone would present a challenge. Today, almost all private practices and hospitals rely on electronic health records (EHR) for managing patient data. They’re not only efficient, but they’re also the most practical way to tame medical bureaucracy and achieve better health outcomes.

What is an Electronic Health Record?

An electronic health record is a digital compilation of a patient’s entire medical history. Stored in a computer, it holds information including:

  • Demographics
  • Diagnoses
  • Immunization record
  • Allergy list
  • Medication profile
  • Vital signs
  • Progress notes
  • Care plans
  • Diagnostic test results
  • Radiographic images
  • Administrative and billing data

What’s the Difference between an EMR and EHR?

The terms “electronic medical record” and “electronic health record” are used interchangeably, even among healthcare providers. But while they’re both digital records of patients’ health information, there is a distinct difference.

An EMR is a digital version of a patient’s chart containing medical and treatment history from a single practice. It stays in the physician’s office and isn’t shared.

An EHR contains all available patient records from multiple sources, providing a complete, holistic view of their health, including their history of past illnesses. It goes wherever the patient does and is accessible to all providers.

Why have both? An EMR is comparable to jotting down everyday recipes on index cards to avoid having to leaf through a 500-page cookbook every night. Electronic data is faster to sort through, but the more there is, the longer searches take. Storage capacity is also finite at the practice level, and occasionally, patients won’t permit certain providers to access their complete EHR.

Why are Electronic Health Records Important?

Electronic health records are all-inclusive, giving doctors wider access to critical data. It’s how an emergency room physician halfway across the country can verify a patient is allergic to penicillin with a few mouse clicks.

EHRs contain the most accurate and timely information, painting a complete picture of a patient’s health. The more information doctors have, the better medical decisions they can make.

What are the Benefits of Electronic Health Records?

There are many benefits of electronic health records. These benefits include:

Benefit #1: Allowing Doctors to Share More Information

Primary care physicians refer one out of every three patients to a specialist annually, requiring the exchange of large volumes of information. Once a source of frustration among patients, doctors and staff, electronic health records have improved the referral process dramatically.

Both the primary care physician and the specialist can now access the same health information from a single, well-organized source. There are fewer lost files and less paperwork to juggle.

Benefit #2: Easier to Store, Retrieve and Send

Sharing medical information is easier when it’s stored electronically. Medical assistants no longer have to fax documentation or sort through rows of filing cabinets to retrieve thick paper charts. Data is well-organized and easier to find. Notes created and stored digitally are rarely outdated because updates are easy to make with a few simple keystrokes.

Benefit #3:  Improve Patient Confidentiality

The law limits access to patients’ private medical data to staff who need to know. But a billing specialist leafing through paper charts in search of an insurance policy number could easily see details unrelated to their job. Information in electronic health records is secured by role and access granted only to those individuals who need it, better protecting patient privacy.

Benefit #4:  Prevent Treatment Duplication

Before the use of electronic health records, some lab tests got repeated because of missing results. Every time paperwork changes hands, it can be misplaced, a costly mistake that can delay care.

Electronic health records are updated at the point of service, test results are added to the system by laboratory technicians and the ordering physician is automatically notified.

Benefit #5: Decrease Medical Error Rate

Most medical errors are directly attributed to miscommunication. Examples include misfiled records, missing paperwork and illegible notes, issues that electronic health records help address. Facilities with consumer portals also empower patients to report errors.

Benefit #6: Enhance Doctor-Patient Communication

Within most electronic health record systems is a function allowing doctors and patients to send secure messages to each other, improving patient access and privacy. Clients know the doctor hears exactly what they have to say without messages being filtered. Firsthand communication is always the most effective.

Benefit #7: Make Healthcare More Affordable

It costs billions of dollars to process medical transactions using old technology like fax. And private practices were hiring clerical staff just to handle paperwork for each doctor. Electronic health records speed transactions, making them more efficient and reducing the cost of healthcare.

Benefit #8: Improve Patient Outcomes

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that half of Americans have at least one chronic health condition. But for some, the diagnosis comes too late. For example, patients with both diabetes and hypertension are at greater risk for developing chronic kidney disease, yet many were never tested for it because in the absence of symptoms, busy doctors didn’t always make the connection.

Electronic health records help by putting unlimited information at the doctor’s fingertips. Data is not only better organized, but it can also be cross-referenced to identify patients’ risk factors. Doctors can then reach out to patients with recommendations for preventive care, resulting in better overall outcomes.

Follow-up is also easier because of electronic health records. A decade ago, fewer than half of US hospitals routinely notified a patient’s primary care physician if they were seen in the emergency room. Now, EHR helps practices follow up with the most vulnerable patients.

In the future, you can expect to get reminders from your doctor about overdue screenings and immunizations. It’s a step toward better health for an aging population.

Benefit #9: Bolster Public Health

The pandemic has underscored the need for improving public health. If you’ve ever wondered how the CDC knows how many people were diagnosed with Covid-19 so quickly, it’s because they access the diagnostic codes in electronic health records across the country.

With disease outbreaks on the rise, electronic health records are helping public health officials collect timely, accurate data for better disease surveillance and more effective resource management.

Final Thoughts

Electronic health records have enhanced our ability to exchange medical information. It’s one of the many modern tools making medical assistants’ job easier while improving the quality of patient care.

Medical Assistant Technicians Program

Ready to start working toward your medical assistant diploma? The Medical Assistant Technician Diploma Program is designed to prepare students to obtain entry-level employment as a medical assistant technician. This program offers students the opportunity to learn the necessary knowledge and skills both in the classroom and in a supervised clinical practice. The students learn how to prepare patients for various clinical examinations such as EKGs and phlebotomy, as well as how to perform several such procedures. And, they learn both EHR and EMR for administrative front office skills.*

Ready to move from the classroom to a career? Florida Technical College is here to help. Contact us to learn more about completing the medical assistant technician diploma program at Florida Technical College.

*These examples are intended to serve only as a general guide of possible employment opportunities. There are many factors that determine the job an individual may obtain and Florida Technical College cannot guarantee its graduate any particular job. Some positions may require license or other certifications. We encourage you to research the requirements for the particular position you desire.