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Defining the EHR

Image of Digital Charts

This is part one in a short series about Electronic Health Records (EHRs), meaningful use, and the connection between EHRs and librarians.

Electronic Health Records, or EHRs, as defined by are “digital (computerized) versions of patients’ paper charts” that combine past and present patient information into a single record. They contain a patient’s demographic and health information history including diagnoses, prescribed medications, as well as lab data and results. EHRs have the potential to streamline the amount of health information concerning a single patient, and therefore provide improved management of patient records by providers. In addition, most EHRs also have the ability to support evidence-based tools and software that assist in clinical decision-making and are able to integrate health information for patients (such as MedlinePlus Connect).

The term EMR (Electronic Medical Record) is often used interchangeably with EHR but the two are very different. The most important distinction to mention however is that EMRs, unlike EHRs, are not able to be modified across different provider offices or healthcare organizations. Another term often used is PHR, or Personal Health Record. A PHR is different from both an EMR and EHR in that it is a record of medical health information and history kept by the patient, rather than the providers.

Despite President George W. Bush’s 2004 initiative for all Americans to have EHRs, the rate of adoption has been slow. In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act authorized the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to provide incentive payments to providers and hospitals who implement EHRs and are able to demonstrate meaningful use. More about meaningful use will be covered in the next EHR blog post.


Amatayakul, M.K. Electronic Health Records: A Practical Guide for Professionals and Organizations. 5th ed.  Illinois: AHIMA Press; 2012 (

NLM. Personal Health Records. MedlinePlus. Last updated May 13, 2013.  Accessed June 10, 2013.

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