EMRs, EHRs & PHRs: What They Are & What to Know

By Nicole Fletcher,


From CCDs and EMPIs, to MOOP and HDHPs, acronyms are tossed around constantly in healthcare. Some are specific to certain systems, while others are used interchangeably, sometimes meaning the same thing - and sometimes... not. At PokitDok, as we continue to offer interoperability solutions to hospital systems nationwide, we have come across a few of those acronyms - and thought we’d share the subtle, though notable, differences between three popular ones: EMR, EHR and PHR - along with how we fit into the equation.

EMR - Electronic Medical Records

Definition and Use

EMRs are digital versions of the paper charts in doctor’s offices, clinics, and hospitals. They house information collected by and for clinicians in that office, clinic or hospital and are primarily used for diagnostic purposes. The transition from paper health records to EMRs was part of the Affordable Care Act and is governmentally mandated to be complete by the end of 2015. EMRs are a vital step in the evolution of healthcare technology because they allow providers to track health data over time, identify patients for preventive visits and screenings, monitor them, and ultimately improve the quality of their health. Patients generally do not have access to the data that exists in EMRs (nor EHRs - to follow).


EMRs, though an important step in the future of health, are often disconnected from other health systems, past and present. Say for example, an adult patient’s childhood immunization records have been translated into EMRs. While electronic, they are not connected to that person’s present health records and, in most cases, there is no efficient way to get them there.

EHR - Electronic Health Records

Definition and Use

EHRs are built to go beyond the standard health data collected in a provider’s office, meaning that their goal is to offer a larger, all-encompassing view of a patient’s care history. EHRs include a lot of patient information from various doctors and clinicians and, to that point, these authorities can access that information to care for their patients. EHRs also share information with other healthcare providers, including specialists and labs. They were designed to follow patients – from their past, into their present and through their future. Leading EHR companies include names like EPIC, AllScripts, Dr. Chrono, and Greenway. EMR and EHR, as acronyms, are often used interchangeably but really, EHRs tend to encompass the information in EMRs, plus additional patient information.


EHRs house millions of electronic health records to offer a more inclusive view of patient health. They have issues though with their ability to technologically communicate with one another, meaning that, although their goal is to achieve a more complete view of a patient’s health, their technology does not support the connections required to do so. For example, if a patient has records stored in one hospital’s EHR, that system cannot easily send that data to another hospital on another system. To top it off, some hospitals use more than one EHR internally. The ability for multiple systems to communicate is called interoperability - this is what’s lacking in healthcare today.

PHR - Personal Health Records

Definition and Use

PHRs generally contain the same types of information as EHRs; anything from diagnoses and medications, to immunization records and family medical histories. The main difference though, is that they are intended to be set up, accessed, and managed by patients. Patients can use PHRs to manage their health information in a secure, private environment and give their providers access to it, rather than the other way around. They are a major power-in-the-hands-of-the-patient step toward healthcare consumerism.  


Similar to issues associated with EHRs, systems wide communication is a key element in allowing PHRs to function as intended. Further, price and process transparency is a vital piece of the puzzle in order for patients to truly ‘own’ their health. We aren’t there yet but if Dr. Eric Topol, author of the Patient Will See You Now, has anything to say about it, we have to get there soon.

What We’re Doing

The lack of communication and connectivity among disparate health systems is the inspiration for our work toward achieving interoperability in healthcare. EHRs today have solved countless problems for healthcare but their limitations and what they mean for patients can surely be improved. Two of our APIs specifically speak to this issue: Identity Management and Scheduling. The Identity Management piece helps EHRs manage patient identities within and across their systems. It cleanses duplicate data (of which there is a lot) and helps hospitals with EHRs - and eventually people with their PHRs - keep track of their health data past and present. Scheduling allows for multiple EHRs to connect so that, for example, doctors working in hospitals using more than one system, can be scheduled accurately, in real-time through a single interface.

Take a look at the links above for more information about our Interoperability Solutions and feel free to Contact Us with any questions.


About Nicole Fletcher

A digital marketing, content and brand expert, Nicole Fletcher is responsible for brand, content & strategy at PokitDok. From data silo breakdowns to customer education, she's passionate about making healthcare better, one tweet at a time.

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The opinions expressed in this blog are of the authors and not of PokitDok's. The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice.

  Tags: Dev, Enterprise, Providers

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