What is an EHR?

An electronic health record (EHR) is a digital record of a patient’s health information (formerly kept in a paper format or “chart”) that can provide the patient’s health care team with comprehensive health information about the patient. More than just a computerized version of a paper medical chart, over time, it can allow a patient’s providers to share important information, across different health care settings, while maintaining EHR patient confidentiality in accordance with federal and state privacy and security requirements. The patient health information in an EHR includes allergies, radiology images, lab and test results, medical history, diagnoses, medications, and immunization dates. Today, a small but growing number of doctors and hospitals use EHRs—and more are converting to these systems every day. EHRs are growing in popularity in the health care industry, in part because they can be safer and easier to use than paper, and in part because the Federal government is giving doctors and hospitals incentives to use them to improve care.

The terms EHR, EPR (electronic patient record) and EMR (electronic medical record) are often used interchangeably, although differences between them can be defined. The EMR can, for example, be defined as the patient record created in hospitals and ambulatory environments, and which can serve as a data source for the EHR.

2009 HITECH Act

The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (Pub.L. 111-5,§2.A.III & B.4) (a part of the 2009 stimulus package) set meaningful use of interoperable EHR adoption in the health care system as a critical national goal and incentivized EHR adoption.[72][73] The “goal is not adoption alone but ‘meaningful use’ of EHRs — that is, their use by providers to achieve significant improvements in care.”

Title IV of the act promises maximum incentive payments for Medicaid to those who adopt and use “certified EHRs” of $63,750 over 6 years beginning in 2011. Eligible professionals must begin receiving payments by 2016 to qualify for the program. For Medicare the maximum payments are $44,000 over 5 years. Doctors who do not adopt an EHR by 2015 will be penalized 1% of Medicare payments, increasing to 3% over 3 years. In order to receive the EHR stimulus money, the HITECH act (ARRA) requires doctors to show “meaningful use” of an EHR system. As of June 2010, there are no penalty provisions for Medicaid.

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