The differences between an electronic medical record (EMR) and an electronic health record (EHR) are akin to the differences between a transition and a transformation. The journey may be similar, but the destination is not the same. Although the acronyms EMR and EHR have been batted around for years as if they are interchangeable, they are not—it’s more than mere semantics.

An EMR is a digital version of the paper charts tucked into filing cabinets at countless healthcare practices across the country. Although information housed in an EMR is clear, accurate and secure, it is gathered from one source—the practice in which the EMR resides. As such, EMRs are siloed in the sense that their primary data source and use is limited to a single practice.

In contrast, an EHR is an EMR with interoperability. The patient’s information is incorporated from a number of sources, such as hospitals, physician practices, long-term care organizations and even patient-reported outcomes. Disparate information is filtered, integrated and made useable across the care continuum, breaking down the barriers between providers and settings. Within an EHR, there are multiple layers of security to safeguard the patient’s privacy as data is brought in and pushed out to other systems.

When providers opt to use an EHR versus an EMR, they gain greater access to a wider range of patient data, which can better inform decision making and care planning. However, providers must understand that the sources of this information vary and may sometimes deliver filtered data that does not paint the most precise picture of the patient’s health. Therefore, providers should fully understand where data comes from before relying on it and verify the accuracy of the information with the patient.

Choosing to leverage the interoperability and scope of an EHR versus continuing to rely on the single-source EMR can help a practice navigate the evolving healthcare landscape. As the volume and variety of healthcare data expands, practices should seek EHR vendors that are committed to generating a dynamic tool that securely exchanges disparate data across systems and improves providers’ ability to effectively respond to patient needs.