What Is an EHR System? Overview and FAQ

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Written by Diana Campion, MSN, APRN, ANP-C Education Development Nurse, Content Writer, IntelyCare
Two nurses sitting together at a work station, checking something on the EHR system.

Thanks to the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009, technology has been at the forefront of improving patient care for over a decade. This vital legislation guides the meaningful use of health information technology by encouraging healthcare organizations to implement EHR systems. But what is an EHR system, exactly?

If you wish to learn more about the basics of EHR technology, we have you covered. We’ll demystify this topic by providing a quick overview and addressing frequently answered questions (FAQ).

What Is an EHR System?

An electronic health record (EHR) system is a cloud- or server-based digital medical record system that helps you collect, manage, and share patient health data among healthcare providers. Patient data stored in an EHR is protected health information (PHI) safeguarded by federal law through HIPAA.

Healthcare providers or organizations that don’t adopt or use an EHR-certified system are penalized by having their Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement claims reduced by 3%. This can quickly add up to a substantial amount and is a strong incentive for compliance with the HITECH Act.

What Is an EHR vs. EMR System?

Many people within healthcare use the terms EHR and EMR interchangeably, but you should be aware of their fundamental differences. Let’s begin with defining an EMR and then compare these two systems.

An electronic medical record (EMR) is the digital version of a patient’s paper chart. This system contains patient medical histories, diagnoses, and treatments within a single practice and is significantly more basic than an EHR. The table below summarizes how EHRs and EMRs vary.

System EHR EMR
Primary Focus Specific medical conditions of a patient Holistic view of patient’s overall health
Data Sharing Capability Limited to sharing information with authorized clinicians and healthcare workers within a particular practice Able to share data with the patient and authorized healthcare workers and clinicians within a healthcare system network independent of location
Functions Collect, manage, and store patient medical histories, diagnoses, and treatments Same as EHR and also provides a platform for:

  • Scheduling appointments
  • Collaborating and communicating information among patient’s multidisciplinary team
  • Electronic prescribing of medication and treatments
  • Storing laboratory and imaging results
  • Billing

What Are an EHR System’s Benefits vs. Drawbacks?

If you’re planning to invest in an electronic health records system, it’s a good idea to develop a list of their benefits and drawbacks to aid in your decision-making. We’ve provided the following list with practical examples to get you started.

EHR Benefits

Here are some of the many ways EHRs can improve patient outcomes and organizational operations.

  1. Providing correct, real-time, and comprehensive patient information: For example, clinicians can chart their notes at the time of care and import testing results for complete documentation.
  2. Enhancing communication and collaboration: The multidisciplinary team can review each other’s notes and all testing results within a secure platform, facilitating the development of high-quality patient care plans.
  3. Promoting higher-quality and safer patient care: Prevent team misunderstandings and medical errors from illegible handwriting as provider notes, orders, and prescriptions are entered through typing.
  4. Reducing costs by decreasing errors and improving outcomes: Providers’ access to patients’ complete online health data helps them avoid prescribing new medications that adversely react with current ones, ensure preventive screenings are up-to-date, and eliminate unnecessary testing.
  5. Streamlining coding and billing: Providers can add their National Provider Identifier (NPI) to their profile and reference billing codes within the EHR, ensuring documentation of essential information to improve efficiency and optimize insurance reimbursements.

EHR Drawbacks

While there are many advantages to EHRs, you also need to consider their disadvantages. Here are the drawbacks to consider before investing in an EHR.

  1. Cybersecurity risks: EHR and computer systems are prime targets for hacking attacks that attempt to steal, corrupt, and delete PHI data. Healthcare organizations must ensure their EHR has capable security to minimize the risk of a data breach.
  2. Data integrity impacts outcomes: Providers rely on the entire healthcare team to enter the correct information in real-time to make accurate diagnoses and appropriate treatment decisions. Data error and delayed chart entries compromise documentation integrity and increase the risk of medical errors — jeopardizing patient outcomes.
  3. Substantial cost and time investment: EHR software is expensive, and implementing a new system disrupts clinical workflows and temporarily decreases productivity during the migration to the new system. Staff will also need proper training and ramp-up time to ensure efficient use of the system.
  4. Increased clinician burnout: The enhanced functionality of EHRs has created a burden for clinicians to document and enter more information. The more time and workload caused by additional charting has led to decreased job satisfaction and increased burnout.

What Is an EHR System Selection Strategy?

If you want to implement EHR software, you’ll need a strategy to help you find the best system for your organization. We put together a list of considerations to guide your selection process.

  1. Assemble a committee of stakeholders to help you research, select, and implement your new EHR system.
  2. Ask multiple vendors for EHR pricing options, including:
    • activation costs
    • licensing fees
    • maintenance costs
    • functionality costs
    • subscription fees
    • training costs
  3. Utilize trials and conduct robust product testing on different EHR models. This investment will need to fit your day-to-day operations and improve efficiency. In addition, it will need to fit the needs of key departments such as clinical, quality, and billing.
  4. After testing different systems and obtaining feedback from your team, determine which system functions are essential.
  5. Select an EHR product that meets the government standards and regulations for certified electronic health record technology (CEHRT), HIPAA, and the HITECH Act.
  6. Choose a system with advanced cybersecurity to safeguard your patients and organizations’ data and avoid stiff HIPAA violation penalties.

Learn More Ways to Embrace Technology

Now that you’re able to answer the question, what is an EHR system? you can see why the government endorses this software. Want to learn even more ways to improve outcomes and avoid costly mistakes? Sign up today to receive healthcare news, tips, and insights, delivered straight to your inbox.