They’re all Synonyms!

I don’t know how many times I delivered a presentation / authored a published article when I had to explain why two healthcare information technology (HIT) trade organizations (one so large that it won’t be mentioned in this article and the other, federally commissioned at taxpayer expense and no longer in existence) adopted definition differences between an electronic medical record (EMR) and an electronic health record (EHR).

This only further confused my healthcare professional audience / readership who, for years, have had a complete understanding that charts, records, patient charts, patient records, medical records, health records, etc. are synonyms! Walk into any hospital or clinician office and always one will hear an assortment of such synonyms without ever questioning the meanings.

True, in the late 20th century, synonyms of adjectives, such as computer, computerized, automated, or electronic were needed to differentiate between (what is known in the greater IT world as) analog vs. digital charts, records, patient charts, patient records, medical records, health records, etc. However, still the use of the synonyms of adjectives with the synonyms of nouns made no difference to practicing healthcare professionals, except to differentiate, when necessary, between analog, digital, or hybrid.

Thankfully, we might be getting close to ending this nonsense. Recently, one HIStalk reader correctly pointed out that NOWHERE in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) with its Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act is there a distinction made between an EMR and an EHR. Only the term electronic health record and acronym EHR is used — for health information exchanges, for hospitals, for physician offices. That’s probably because every healthcare industry-bred author / reader / interpreter of this legislation has a complete understanding of what is being conveyed.

On the floors or in clinic rooms, let’s continue to use whatever synonyms (adjectives and nouns) come to mind, because we’ll continue to understand what is being communicated. In addition, let’s give credit to the 2009 legislation for dealing one of the final blows to this “trade organization made up EHR/EMR” definition debate and all agree to use EHR (as used in the ARRA / HITECH legislation) as the standard terminology in presentations / published articles / vendor products, etc. Only then will we be able to move on to more important discussions.

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