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What is EHR?

By Steve Smith

The information presented here is true and accurate as of the date of publication. DeVry’s programmatic offerings and their accreditations are subject to change. Please refer to the current academic catalog for details.


July 9, 2024

5 min read

EHR stands for electronic health record. In this article, we’ll explore the question of “what is EHR?”, as well as outline how they contribute to the access, security and portability of health information in today’s health information technology landscape.

What is EHR in Healthcare?

You might have heard the term EMR, or electronic medical record, before, but what’s the difference between EHRs and EMRs? While many use the terms interchangeably, they aren’t the same thing.

EMRs are the digital equivalent of the paper charts that were once the standard in doctors’ offices and hospitals. EHRs, however, are more comprehensive, and integrate tools for prescribing medications, ordering lab work and facilitating telehealth appointments.

An EHR is a centralized health record that allows different care providers to view a patient’s medical history and communicate with other doctors or clinicians treating the same patient. They contain contact information, details about a patient’s care appointments, allergies, medications, immunization status and medical history, and can be updated much more easily than paper records. Medical images are also sometimes attached to EHRs.

Benefits of an Electronic Health Records System

What is EHR in terms of its benefits to patients and providers? Secure EHR systems can contribute to the quality, efficiency and convenience of patient care and improve patients’ overall experience in several ways:

  • Improved quality of care: Information sharing can make it easier for clinicians and diagnosticians to work together, whether they be on opposite ends of town or across the country. When accurate information about medications is available in EHRs, the risk of dangerous drug interactions could be minimized. If you need care in an area affected by a natural disaster like a major flood or hurricane, your information can still be retrieved by health providers. If you’re in an accident and unable to communicate with health providers, an EHR at a hospital’s emergency department may be able to get information about your medical history, medications and tests from your doctor’s system.

  • Increased efficiency of care: The widespread use of EHRs can save time and money for patients, their care teams and insurers. When systems can share information, multiple clinicians can review test results or X-rays, eliminating the need for these tests to be repeated. This means less duplication of effort or possible exposure to harmful effects of diagnostic procedures and fewer out-of-pocket costs for the patient.

  • Greater convenience: EHRs have the potential to minimize duplicative efforts for patients by skipping the need to have them fill out the same forms at different doctor’s visits. With EHRs, doctors, pharmacies, diagnostic facilities and others involved in the patient journey can all share the same information that only needs to be put in once.

Digital recordkeeping has become the standard in the healthcare industry, thereby introducing higher levels of clarity and eliminating paper clutter. And because they’re digital, they may be less likely to be misinterpreted than handwritten notes.

Are electronic health records secure?

Doctors, hospitals and other health providers are required to keep your information secure per specific guidelines. They are also required to notify you if there’s been a breach of their data systems.

In the United States, all EHRs and the entities implementing them (such as health plans, healthcare clearinghouses and healthcare providers) must comply with the 3 basic rules of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA):

  • The Privacy Rule: HIPAA’s Privacy Rule protects any medical records and other personal health information (PHI) used by providers conducting transactions electronically. 

  • The Security Rule: This rule protects electronic personal health information (ePHI) created, received, used or maintained by providers. 

  • Breach Notification Rule: When a breach is experienced, this rule requires covered entities to notify affected patients, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and, in cases impacting more than 500 individuals in a particular state or jurisdiction, the media. A breach is defined as an unpermitted use or disclosure of PHI. 

Who owns the patient data?

While states have differing laws regarding ownership of patient records, individuals do have a legal right to access their health information under HIPAA’s Privacy Rule. This rule requires plans and providers to provide patients with access to the PHI about them, and to allow them to obtain copies or transmit their information to another person or entity of their choice. 

How is EHR data stored?

This varies with different providers and the EHR systems they may use. Some medical practices may store EHR data on local, on-premises servers. Providers using a cloud-based, software-as-a-service platform store them on remote servers.  

Begin on Your Career Path in Health Information Technology with DeVry

Health information professionals that work with EHRs play a crucial role in the healthcare system. At DeVry, we can help you prepare to pursue a career in this vital field.

Start by pursuing one of our Undergraduate Certificate in Medical Billing and Coding programs, which can teach you many of the essential skills needed to prepare to pursue a career in either inpatient or outpatient facilities, and help you prepare to take either the CCS® Exam or the CPC® Exam.

For our Medical Billing and Coding - Health Information Coding Certificate, we provide a voucher to qualifying students to cover the cost of 1 exam attempt and HIT264 - CCS Review, our exam prep course, is included in your curriculum at no additional cost, and for our Medical Billing and Coding Certificate, we provide a voucher to qualifying students to cover the cost of 1 exam attempt and HIT254 – Coding Practicum and Review, our exam prep course, is included in your curriculum at no additional cost.

And your learning doesn’t have to stop there. Our stackable programs1 allow you to build up your skills and while applying qualifying credits to a related higher-level credential. For example, many of the courses in our Medical Billing and Coding Certificate programs apply toward our Associate Degree in Health Information Technology, which may be completed with a Health Information track. After completing that degree, eligible courses stack into our Bachelor’s in Technical Management which can be earned with a specialization in Health Information Management.

Our online Bachelor's Degree program in Technical Management with Specialty in Health Information Management and our online Associate Degree program in Health Information Technology when completed with the Health Information track are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM)

1At the time of application to the next credential level, an evaluation of qualifying transfer credit will occur and the most beneficial outcome will be applied. Future programmatic changes could impact the application of credits to a future program. Refer to the academic catalog for details.

2The University’s accreditation for the Baccalaureate degree program in Health Information Management has been reaffirmed through 2029-2030. All inquiries about the program’s accreditation status should be directed by mail to CAHIIM, 200 E. Randolph St., Ste. 5100, Chicago, IL, 60601; by phone at 312.235.3255; or by email at [email protected].

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