EHRs: Someday you won't call them EMRs

June 13, 2008

Baffled by look-alike terms such as electronic health record, electronic medical record, and personal health record? A $500,000 federal study tries to clear things up.

Baffled by look-alike terms such as electronic health record, electronic medical record, and personal health record? A $500,000 federal study tries to clearthings up.

Synonyms for a medical record inside a computer-please don’t call it a MRIAC-once multiplied like rabbits. Software companies and clinicians threw around dozens of terms like electronic patient record, cyber patient file, virtual health record, and digital patient chart.  The competition for supremacy narrowed down to EMR and EHR, which have been used interchangeably, but the rise of a computin’ cousin called the PHR added to the acronymity.

The US Department of Health and Human Services decided awhile back that all these confusing terms were making it hard to fulfill President Bush’s dream of an EHR for every American. So HHS awarded a $500,000 contract to a consulting company called BearingPoint and its subcontractor, the National Alliance for Health Information Technology, to come up with helpful definitions of key terms.

In April, NAHIT published its recommendations,

which await final approval by the American Health Information Community, an HHS advisory group. In a nutshell, an EMR is an electronic chart created and accessed by a single healthcare organization, while the EHR, due to its quintessential interoperable nature, is a record that’s created and accessed by multiple organizations. “With the passage of time, electronic records not capable of exchanging information interoperably will lose their relevance,” stated the NAHIT report. “Thus the term EMR is on course for eventual retirement.”

A PHR is an electronic record managed by an individual patient as opposed to a healthcare organization, though the information in it may come from an EHR or other sources. Patients don’t have a true PHR, the study noted, if they’re merely viewing portions of a healthcare organization’s EHR on a web portal. What’s missing here is patient control of the data.

NAHIT also took a crack at terms for networking EHRs. “Health information exchange,” or HIE, describes the process of moving patient data among organizations based on nationally recognized standards. A group that oversees this exchange is a “health information organization,” or HIO.  A “regional health information organization,” or RHIO, is a type of HIO.

Now you can sleep easy.