EHR vs EMR for Behavioral Health Practices
The terms Electronic Medical Records (EMR) and Electronic Health Records (EHR) software systems for behavioral health have been used interchangeably through the years. Their functions have become vastly different, along with their usage rates. HIPAA’s records sharing capability mandates are moving healthcare practices to EHRs. The behavioral health category is leading the adoption trend, with this market expected to reach $459 million in the U.S. by 2030.
Digital Patient Records Overview
EMRs are digital versions of the paper charts in clinician offices, practices, and hospitals. EMRs contain notes and information collected in a provider’s facilities and telehealth services and are used by providers for diagnosis and treatment. EMRs are more useful than paper records; they can be searched for and updated. Patient data can be tracked over time, found for preventive visits and screenings, and continuously checked. They’re typically stored on SaaS and cloud platforms, with secondary backup, for primary and colocation safety and security.
EHRs are designed to share patient information with other healthcare providers outside a single provider’s operations. They include all the data collection, storage, and security that EMRs offer, along with real-time access. EHRs store medical information from the healthcare providers involved in patient care. All authorized healthcare organizations supplying services to the patient can access the information. The aim is more encompassing care, with fewer errors through documentation of each treatment.
EHR-housed records go with patients to each provider they have an encounter with, supplying better historical visibility of treatment they’ve received. Patients themselves also have access to their own records, through online portals.
EMR vs EHR Software
At their core, both EHR and EMR systems collect and store patient and client data, including diagnoses, notes, treatment information, and procedure codes.
The differences between the two came with a sense of urgency. New regulations from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) require patients and clients to be allowed digital access to their own healthcare records from mobile devices.
Practices that don’t provide these electronic records according to CMS guidelines may face reduced reimbursement payment until they achieve HIPAA’s technological certification. Another motivating factor: HIPAA is also issuing penalties for health groups that do not allow patient access to records promptly.
EHR platforms are designed to meet these HIPAA mandates, through patient portals for their records access.
The standout difference between EMRs and EHRs is data sharing abilities. EHRs enable medical practitioners from different disciplines to work together seamlessly for the patient’s overall care.
EMRs share patient information internally within a single healthcare entity. HealthIT.gov refers to EMRs as digital versions of paper records. While they provide patient record creation and updating and tracking of their medical history within the practice using an EMR, it lacks data sharing workflow capabilities with outside organizations.
In contrast, EHR-housed data can be shared among other healthcare providers, and with patients themselves. These systems provide interoperability, the ability for different systems and devices to connect and communicate. This functionality gives EHRs versatility for patient care. This increases the speed of each practitioner to receive up-to-date client documentation, easing collaboration between the entities.
EHRs also engage patients themselves. The HIPAA-mandated accessibility allows them to share information with other healthcare providers as beneficial.
Advanced EHR Functionality
As the needs of mental health therapists continue to evolve, EHR systems are adding additional automated functionality. This enables practitioners to have more facetime with patients, by reducing administrative workload. Medical practices benefit from reduced admin costs and increased billable hours.
Counselors can view their patient’s medical records with a mobile device, including medical histories, lab results, and diagnostic imaging reports. Encounter information can be entered directly on the client’s face page, where it becomes part of their digital medical record.
For medication prescriptions, both new treatments and refills can be transmitted directly to the patients’ pharmacies through electronic medication administration records (eMAR) capability. This saves admin time and reduces errors.
Patients can access their medical records through the EHR’s patient portal. Additionally, they can schedule appointments (onsite or by telehealth) and receive reminders by email or text. This automated convenience also reduces provider costs, saving staff time and reducing operations overhead.
Reimbursement billings to Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurers are also automated through EMRs, improving cash flow.
Practical EHR workflow benefits include:
- The information gathered by the primary care provider or other patient referring source tells the behavioral health professional about the patient’s physical health. This includes known conditions and related test results to date. This information provides the therapist’s practice with an overview of any conditions that may relate to current mental health conditions. This often indicates any obstacles to treatment.
- If the patient received a psychiatric diagnosis or care during a hospital stay, their records can provide discharge instructions and follow-up care recommendations. This information helps the patient to transition smoothly from one care setting to another.
- The patient can log on to their own records and review the care they’ve received and follow the next steps of treatment. This often helps keep them on course for continued improvement. It also motivates them to take their medications and keep up with the lifestyle changes recommended for their recovery.