Understanding the Different Types of Electronic Health Record Systems

Types of electronic health record systems: couple talking to a professional

Electronic health record (EHR) systems bring together medical information or patient records from different health care providers into a single system. This facilitates communication between providers by allowing for secure messaging and easier sharing of patient records. EHR systems are designed for hospitals, clinics, and outpatient facilities. They are used by health care professionals in order to make accurate diagnoses and optimize treatment plans.

EHR systems include modules that collect, store, manage, and interpret data related to the provision of health care services. They help medical practitioners keep track of patient data, including diagnosis details and treatment history.

EHR systems assist health care organizations in clinical decision support, clinical communication, care coordination, and information management. They improve patient care by reducing medical errors and improving workflow for clinicians.​ A robust electronic health record system will also help health care providers meet meaningful use standards and avoid Medicare/Medicaid reimbursement penalties.

This guide explains the different types of electronic health record systems available today. With that knowledge, we’ll then explore the distinct features to look for when selecting EHR software or seeking EHR software customization for your organization.

Types of Electronic Health Record Systems

When discussing the benefits of electronic health record systems, it’s important to first understand how EHR systems differ from electronic medical record systems.

What’s the Difference Between an EMR and an EHR system?

As the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) explains, electronic medical records are the clinical records of patients in a single health care organization or a single practice. An electronic medical record (EMR) is simply a digital version of the paper charts in a clinician's office. 

On the other hand, electronic health records take a holistic approach toward an individual’s health care, involving several health care practitioners and health care organizations. An electronic health record (EHR) is a patient record created by gathering information from all the clinicians, laboratories, hospitals, pharmacies, and imaging centers that treat a patient. An EHR is available to authorized users across more than one health care organization.

Practice Management: Choosing an EHR System

The type of electronic health record system you choose can affect your practice in a variety of ways. When deciding which EHR is best for your practice, you need to consider what type of software system you want to use. The various kinds of EHR systems can be streamlined into two basic types:

  • A server-based EHR system, also known as a physician-hosted system
  • A cloud-based EHR system

If a system is server-based, it's installed on an internal server and accessed through a program on your computer. Server-based systems are called on-premise or installed software. Alternatively, cloud-based systems are often referred to as Software as a Service (SaaS).

Here are a couple of questions to ask yourself to help determine which of these two types is right for your practice:

  • Can you afford to invest in IT infrastructure? 

A server-based EHR requires an investment in both hardware and software, as well as ongoing maintenance and management of those assets. For most practices, this means hiring an IT team or at least one full-time IT staff member.

  • Do you have the budget to invest in IT professionals?

Once you've invested in a server and software, it's essential that you have someone on staff who can handle daily system needs and issues such as backups, data security, upgrades, and maintenance. This person will monitor the health of your server by identifying possible problems and regularly backing up your data.

In contrast, cloud providers automate those processes and have teams working around the clock to ensure the security of the data stored on their servers. These teams proactively monitor for potential security threats and implement the latest security measures to prevent breaches. When you have a cloud-based EHR, you don't have to worry about software upgrades, data storage, or data backup. 

Cost is another concern. SaaS cloud products are typically subscription-based, so you pay a monthly fee per user or by volume. On the other hand, server-based products require an upfront investment in hardware and software licenses.

How Behavioral Health Care Organizations Can Implement EHR Systems

Types of electronic health record systems: nurse helping an elderly woman

Data can be used to measure program effectiveness for continuous improvement. However, behavioral health organizations face data collection challenges that are specific to their mission and clinical work (the most pronounced being data fragmentation, data privacy regulations, and unstructured data exchange). These challenges create barriers that prevent behavioral health organizations from implementing evidence-based practices (EBPs). EBPs are treatment approaches that have been proven effective based on scientific research findings.

For instance, researchers must analyze data to support evaluations and measure program impacts or outcomes. These types of evaluations are important for determining the relevance of a program and its potential for improvement. Hence, the implementation of EBPs requires that behavioral health organizations use reliable data collection methods, which provide the basis for program evaluation and feedback to improve patient outcomes. 

Other limitations that affect EHR system implementation include cost, security and privacy concerns, and limited access to technology resources. 

Limited Resources for Adoption and Implementation

Many behavioral health care providers, particularly small practices, have limited resources for EHR system adoption. Some cannot pay for the initial costs of selecting, purchasing, and implementing, which can be very expensive. These resource constraints make the purchase and maintenance of an EHR system more difficult. In addition, some behavioral health organizations and providers in remote areas have inadequate broadband internet access, as well as insufficient technical support to implement and use an EHR system.

Lack of Interoperability Across EHR Solutions

In this context, interoperability refers to EHR system compatibility. Once an organization selects an EHR vendor, it must then try to configure its new EHR system to work with other solutions that its patients may need to access. Health care solutions need to work together to prevent interoperability issues.

Yet, most systems cannot seamlessly communicate with each other. If a patient receives care from multiple providers, it is intuitive that the providers’ EHR systems should be able to share information. For example, a patient should be able to go from one provider’s practice with one type of EHR system and then easily get care at another provider’s practice with a different type of EHR system without having to repeatedly provide their medical history or pull up other medical records manually.

Data Security Concerns With Sharing Patient Information

There's also a need to protect patient privacy and preserve data security while still being able to share information with other organizations. Considering all this, it's important for organizations dealing with behavioral health to carefully choose a HIPAA-compliant type of electronic health record system to meet relevant data compliance regulations. 

Organizations can achieve this by having an understanding of what the options are and how those options will affect them in the long run. As a future consideration, health organizations might want to switch EHR vendors. They need to be sure that their selected vendor offers HIPAA-compliant data conversion because this can ensure their data remains safe during migration to another provider.

Top Features to Look for When Choosing an EHR System

Group talking to each other

An EHR system is a great tool and can increase efficiency. However, one thing to consider is the difference between medical EHR solutions and EHR solutions geared toward behavioral health.

Differences Between Medical EHR and Behavioral Health EHR Solutions

One of the biggest differences between behavioral health and medical EHR solutions is the breadth of services offered by behavioral health organizations. These organizations can offer many types of patient care, including counseling services, psychiatric services, substance use recovery services, group therapy, and other specialized programming. However, many of the existing types of electronic health record system solutions are rigid and don't allow for such customizations. This is where EHR systems geared toward behavioral health can help streamline patient care and provide a more comprehensive view of a patient’s history.

Hence, there is a strong need to have an EHR vendor with flexible services that are tailored to behavioral health and human services organizations.

The additional capabilities of a behavioral health EHR system helps organizations to be more efficient, as well as to comply with state and federal regulations.

Key features of a behavioral health EHR system include:

  • Billing and claims management tools
  • Patient data security and confidentiality capabilities
  • Treatment-specific documentation requirements
  • Behavioral health analytics
  • Electronic prescribing for controlled substances 

Human services organizations are focused on case management and family engagement, which means their EHR systems must be configured to support:

  • The ability to manage multiple programs within one system while ensuring compliance with regulations that vary by program type
  • Case management and client records
  • Medical billing and invoicing for government and fee-for-service programs
  • Eligibility determination for incentives and enrollment in government programs (e.g., Medicaid)

ContinuumCloud's Cloud-Based EHR Software

ContinuumCloud offers behavioral health technology that is specifically designed for behavioral health and human services organizations. Our type of electronic health record system supports you in managing client records, service planning, clinical documentation, scheduling, billing, reporting, and more. 

We understand that interoperability is one of the biggest challenges for healthcare organizations, and improving interoperability within healthcare is a demanding undertaking. We also understand that you want to integrate your EHR solution with other applications and have a flexible system that can grow over time. Our cloud-based EHR solution facilitates third-party application integration and offers integrations with other types of electronic health record systems. Our platform makes it easy for you to provide comprehensive care to patients by integrating multiple solutions into one platform and reducing administrative burdens on your organization.

ContinuumCloud’s EHR solution includes mobile applications support, which allows patients and providers to access the platform from their smartphones for convenient scheduling and communication. Physicians can communicate with patients in real-time via text message. It also provides a patient portal where patients can easily access their health records, make appointments, and communicate with their care team. We provide training, consulting services, client services, technical support, and a variety of customizations to enable you to optimize our system around your specific needs.

EHR systems can transform the way behavioral health and human services organizations manage their business. However, some types of electronic health record software are better suited for certain medical practices than others. ContinuumCloud provides a flexible and customizable EHR solution that fits practically any behavioral health organization's needs by addressing all the critical requirements necessary for the successful implementation of an EHR system.

Contact us today to schedule a demo of our EHR solution and learn more about how we can help transform your behavioral health operations.

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