EHR vs. EMR: What’s Better for Behavioral Health and Human Services?

Man using a tablet

EHR vs. EMR. It's a big topic, so let's dive right in. An electronic medical record (EMR) is a digital version of a chart that stores patient information on a computer, whereas the electronic health record (EHR) is a digital record of all a patient's health information, plus tools that help patients and clinicians achieve and deliver a higher quality of care. The distinction may not seem complex at the outset, leading some to use the terms interchangeably. 

EHRs and EMRs are both electronic systems that keep patient health information, but the differences lie in their uses, goals, and tools. In this article, we'll explore the EHR and EMR debate, delve into the history, expound on the differences, benefits, and challenges, plus offer some real-world uses of today's health IT.

EMR vs. EHR: An Overview

In most cases, a patient's electronic medical record is local. It contains information from a single practice such as treatment notes, vital signs, and prescriptions as well as insurance and demographic information, and payment records. In essence, EMRs contain all of the data that would normally be located in the manual or paper chart at a doctor's office or clinic. An EMR system doesn't usually have features that allow sharing, viewing, or editing of the information in a patient's chart with anyone outside the office. 

On the other hand, an EHR system provides a more integrated view of the patient care record. It focuses on interoperability and may include self-recorded patient data, clinical data, and prescribing notes from emergency room visits, inpatient records, primary care, radiology reports, lab results, and other test results.

A well-designed EHR should also provide digital tools that enable easy access to personal health information, HIPAA-compliant communication capabilities, and workflow integrations that help you work more efficiently. 

A Short History of the Digital Transformation in Health Care

Due to their simplicity, EMRs might seem like the earliest technology. Many sources report that the government and large teaching hospitals envisioned, created, and used early EHR systems as far back as the 1970s. Creating an expansive database of health data that could be shared and analyzed was always the goal. 

In the real world, there were a few obstacles to the early digital transformation of health care. Among the first challenges were digitizing massive amounts of paper records and adopting new, computerized record-keeping methods.

When computers became more affordable and accessible in the 1990s, many health care systems began using digital charting and electronic medical records. During the Internet era, the idea of a vast integrated and interoperable electronic health record system re-emerged.

Between 2000 and 2008, U.S. government spending on health care IT projects increased. A review of the literature during this time indicates that there was indeed a push for industry-wide adoption of EHRs. An important goal of legislation during the following decade was to provide additional funding and incentives to health care providers who adopted interoperable EHRs.

EHR vs. EMR: Interoperability 

Government policy is clear about EMR versus EHR — to meet standards they must be integrated and interoperable. To accelerate the use of qualified digital patient records, specifically EHRs, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid (CMS) started an incentive program to reward their use. The CMS created a multi-stage initiative named Meaningful Use, which was later renamed Promoting Interoperability.

EHRs are more integrated than EMRs but not all EHRs are created equal. Make sure your system is Meaningful Use certified. A lack of interoperability makes it difficult to exchange data effectively, which can lead to poor usability.

ContinuumCloud’s EHR solution allows easy access to data through a patient portal. Social workers in the field can log in, manage clients, and read and edit their notes and the patient record. Our Meaningful Use-certified EHR also facilitates referrals and inter-office communication. 

EHR vs. EMR: Meeting Your Value-Based Care Initiatives 

EHR vs EMR: man talking on the phone

Other changes forthcoming to health care deal with value-based care and value-based payments. Medicare's value-based payments program rewards health care providers who provide high-quality care.

According to new regulations set to go into effect in 2022, health care facilities may face penalties like decreased pay adjustments. According to the upcoming changes, patients must be able to download their EHRs to a digital device like their smartphone, computer, or tablet. As well, to provide access to a patient’s medical information, EHR software must meet the industry guidelines for CMS-certified technology.

If you already use ContinuumCloud's EHR system, you don't need to worry. Our technology is Office of the National Coordinator or ONC-certified and allows complete access, exchange, and use of all electronically accessible health information for allowed use under current state or federal law.

Access to mental and behavioral health services is an integral part of value-based care. Unlike standalone EMR software, EHR platforms that offer a secure mobile patient portal, like ContinuumCloud's, make it easier for patients to access their personal health records. Tools like appointment reminders, telemedicine or teletherapy, patient education, and HIPAA-compliant communication tools also improve access to care for patients. 

You can meet other value-based measures by ensuring patient safety. Use ContinuumCloud's EHR templates to create a permanent and legible record and detect drug interactions and other harm indicators that human eyes sometimes miss with our e-prescribing system.

Which Is Better for Behavioral Health?

Digital transformation in health care involves the adoption of technologies to improve workflows and efficiency with the end goal of improving patient access to higher-quality care. For organizing your documents, lab work, and therapy notes, EMRs are a great place to start, but they are only a first step toward digital transformation. 

Cloud-based EHRs with mobile applications, telehealth, patient portals, and communication tools speed successful digital transformation. Although this is true, some health care providers have been slow to adopt health IT and take advantage of digital transformation opportunities. A report from MACPAC in 2021 indicates behavioral health lags behind other medical fields in adopting EHRs.

The purchase of new EHR software is both a financial investment and an opportunity to move your practice forward, but selecting the wrong system could add to your troubles. Successful adoption may depend on selecting the right EHR vendor

EHR software systems designed for GPs and multi-specialty practices often don't have the tools that behavioral health patients want and need to effectively manage their care. There are benefits of working with behavioral health IT experts to design your EHR, including improved usability and efficiency, both of which have been found to decrease clinician burnout. 

ContinuumCloud's EHR for behavioral health not only provides patients with the access and tools they need but also addresses the usability challenges that behavioral health providers face with training and efficiency. These are all critical factors when it’s time to make the business case for investing in a new EHR system.

EHR vs. EMR: Choose ContinuumCloud

EHR vs EMR: team having a meeting

The digital transformation in the health care industry has been emerging for decades. Many health care professionals and health care organizations have made the switch from single-practice solutions like EMR to fully interoperable EHR platforms. As such, they have been able to keep up with government regulations surrounding value-based payments and Meaningful Use.

In behavioral health, inefficient systems, poor design, and inadequate training could be hindering your progress. Health IT experts specializing in behavioral health created ContinuumCloud’s EHR platform to settle the EMR versus EHR debate once and for all. We understand the nuances of behavioral health workflows and the complexities of human services delivery. Connect with us today to redouble your digital transformation efforts and move your practice forward. 

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