What is an Electronic Medical Records System?

Mary McMahon

An electronic medical records system is a system which is designed to store medical records electronically. Storing medical records in a digital format has a number of advantages which have led to increasing adoption of electronic medical records systems around the world, and a number of governments have launched extensive programs which are designed to encourage medical facilities, clinics, and individual doctors to convert to digital records. Electronic records have also been promoted by some patients' rights advocates.

To employ an electronic record keeping system, all hard copy medical charts must be manually entered into the system.
To employ an electronic record keeping system, all hard copy medical charts must be manually entered into the system.

In an electronic medical records system, information about a patient is entered electronically, rather than being maintained in a paper chart. This information can include everything from emails exchanged between care providers to share information about a patient, to records of specific diagnoses, prescriptions, and procedures, along with the results of lab work, and notes from physical exams and patient interactions. Essentially, anything which involves the patient could be logged in an electronic medical records system, with some systems having interfaces for both patients and doctors, allowing patients to record data as well.

Electronic medical records can be accessed from any computer on the system.
Electronic medical records can be accessed from any computer on the system.

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The big advantage to storing information electronically is that it becomes much more portable. A patient with electronic medical records could easily change providers, provide emergency medical personnel with useful information, and seek out second opinions. Electronic records can also collect information neatly in one location, which reduces the issue of medication errors, miscommunication, and other problems which can abound when a patient's records are scattered across multiple files and databases. Keeping records electronically can also facilitate billing through medical billing software which interfaces with an electronic medical records system.

Medical records contain information about a patient's health and medical treatment history.
Medical records contain information about a patient's health and medical treatment history.

One of the biggest problems with electronic medical records is concern about security. Patient information is confidential, and records systems need to develop ways to protect patients so that their medical records are not compromised. Cross-platform compatibility is also a large issue. If, for example, two medical offices use different electronic medical records systems, it may not be possible to exchange data between the two systems. Likewise, systems may have difficulty converting or reading files written by older versions of the system or by different programs.

The design of an electronic medical records system needs to be comprehensive, with lots of room to grow, and systems also need to take the concerns of individual users into account. Some doctors and nurses are highly resistant to using electronic systems, and the learning curve can be steep for people without computer experience.

Electronic medical records systems allow doctors to edit and add to files using a tablet or computer.
Electronic medical records systems allow doctors to edit and add to files using a tablet or computer.

Discussion Comments

cecilgrass

I am very pleased that the electronic medical record is getting so popular. There is a great one I've been using online that has been hugely convenient for me to use. I recommend that anyone interested try the free demo out and see for yourselves to get a taste of how convenient they can be.

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