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Big Data Sparks a Quest for Simplicity

Scott Mace, for HealthLeaders Media, December 18, 2012

Again and again I see these terms used interchangeably, casually. I quote providers every week using one, or the other, or sometimes both. HealthLeaders editor Bob Wertz pointed this out, and I had to pause.

Healthcare technology is a complicated beast. We make it more complicated if we're using two terms where one will do.

It turns out that the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of the National Coordinator decided on a single term nearly two years ago. In a nutshell, EMR is the older term, dating from a time that the technology often represented little more than scanned images of paper documents.

EHR, the newer and preferred ONC term, encompasses the total health of the patient represented in a digital format, at least according to the ONC.

But in a phone call I had just yesterday morning, a doctor, who I won't name here, used the two terms interchangeably within the first few minutes of our conversation. I made a mental note, then when we were done talking about something unrelated, I brought this to his attention.

His response was that when he's sitting in front of a computer, he usually refers to it as the EMR, but when away from the computer and discussing care issues, it's usually an EHR.

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2 comments on "Big Data Sparks a Quest for Simplicity"


Phyllis Kritek (12/19/2012 at 9:41 AM)
Kudos for tackling this tough topic. Your interest in distinguishing EMR from EHR may be more complex than you think. It points to an ingrained health care cultures dilemma that warrants your reflection. While the discipline of medicine often assumes all data on the patient might best be referred to as the data of "medicine", the other health professions view medicine's data as just that, the contribution of one essential source but not the only one. The composite of data from all health care contributors, including the patient, creates the health care data set. IT professionals often see the dilemma but do not see that it is embedded in an old and fairly resistant mindset that our colleagues in medicine often continue to embrace. I wish you well in your challenge. I know it well. This disconnect, among others, has us all drowning in poorly integrated data...

Joe Nichols MD (12/18/2012 at 2:05 PM)
At last! A breath of sanity. While everyone is heading towards the "Big Data" promised land, someone is finally asking the key question. Is more data better. The current challenge is not that we don't have enough data, it's that we don't have enough data that is standard, clearly defined, complete, accurate and all the other parameters of data quality that most organization many organization ignore. My experience in looking at multiple data from multiple entities is that better data quality is far more valuable that more bad data.