EMR FAQ: Talking to patients about electronic medical records (EMRs)

EMR FAQ: Talking to patients about electronic medical records (EMRs)

Making the move to a paperless practice has an equal benefit for both your practice & your patients. However, because patients often have a limited understanding of what a paperless practice means for them, it is important for you to engage your patients in a conversation around health information technology, & in particular their electronic medical record (EMR).

Fortunately, the majority of patients who are insured with either Discovery Health, Medscheme or Metropolitan, will be familiar with EMRs & may already have granted you access to those records.  However, not all patients will know about the benefits of EMRs.

We’ve answered a few EMR FAQs to help you have an informed discussion with patients about the kind of information that gets stored, whether it gets shared & with whom & how they can use it to improve their health & wellness.


Patient EMR FAQs answered

What is the difference between an PHR, EMR & EHR?

Patient or Personal Health Records (PHRs) is information that you keep about test results, reports & your treatment. PHRs can also be used to schedule appointments & monitor your health by tracking metrics like weight, body mass index (BMI), how much you exercise, blood sugar levels, cholesterol tests & more. EPRs allow you to upload documents, prescriptions & notes. Making this information available to your healthcare professional can optimise (and personalise) the care you receive.

Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) are a digital version of the clinical notes that your healthcare professional makes when you visit the practice. Typically, only that healthcare professional has access to those notes unless you have given consent for your records to be shared with other healthcare professional as part of your treatment. An EMR contains a patient’s medical history, diagnoses & treatments by a particular healthcare professional, nurse, specialist, dentist, surgeon or clinic. This information remains with the practice & will not be shared, except possibly with other healthcare professionals who are treating you, or with your medical aid if you’ve given your informed consent.  

An Electronic Health Record (EHR) is also a digital version of a patient file, but is a broader view of the patient’s medical history. EHRs include much more information about your entire medical history, such as hospital stays. EHRs are designed to be shared with other providers, & allow authorised users to instantly access a patient’s EHR from across different healthcare services. You can consent to sharing this information with your healthcare professional to help them optimise & co-ordinate your care.

Why does storing my medical record digitally matter?

Securely storing your EMR is important for a number of reasons, including keeping a reminder/record of important information that could otherwise be lost. For example, EMRs enable your healthcare professional to:

  • Store you &/or your family’s medical histories
  • Have a record of what medications you are taking, the dosage, any previous side effects of medication & allergies
  • Store the results of any laboratory tests, such as blood tests, radiology reports, scans, & any investigations into your condition.  
  • Discuss your medical scheme benefits & how the consultation will be covered.

Having this sort of up-to-date information readily on hand will help your healthcare professional provide the best possible care.  

How can an EMR benefit me?

  • Better care: Treating healthcare professionals are able to offer you better care coordination if they have access to the same, up-to-date information. This means fewer duplicate tests, lost results, data capturing errors, etc.
  • Better diagnosis: More complete & up-to-date information means more accurate diagnoses.
  • Better communication: By using EMRs, prescriptions &/or doctors’ notes are printed and/or emailed reducing the likelihood of interpretation errors or losing important information (& no more deciphering illegible handwriting). EMRs are also used to send SMS reminders from the practice about your next scheduled appointment or annual health screenings.

Does an EMR store my patient information securely? Is my information safe?

Electronic records of any nature, be it health-related, financial or otherwise, is valuable to cybercriminals. But professionals or organisations that store digital information are legally obligated to take reasonable measures to ensure that information is kept securely, & not shared or leaked unlawfully.

The National Health Act makes it an offense for anyone to share your information without your consent. The only exceptions are when the law or a court order requires disclosure, or if non-disclosure represents a serious threat to public health.

In terms of the Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act, an entity & all its employees are obligated to treat all personal information as private & confidential & they may use the information only for purposes they disclose to you when collecting the information.

When should I give consent to access my Electronic Medical Records (EMRs)?

According to POPI, you should be told about the kind of information being stored about you, how & why it might be shared, & with whom. Giving consent to your doctors, medical schemes & other providers is one way to ensure that you are enabling the best possible care for yourself.

Speak to your healthcare professional or medical aid for more information about your electronic medical records (EMRs) & how you can use them to improve your health.

For an easy print pdf version of these FAQs, complete the download form below:

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