September 16, 2021 | Net Health

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Electronic Health Records: A Comprehensive History of EHR Systems

Today, it’s easy to think of electronic health records (EHRs), also known as electronic medical records (or EMR software) as just a substitute for paper record-keeping. As a prominent EHR software company, we know otherwise. EHR systems represent an area of healthcare technology that has seen an overhaul since its inception.

The truth is, great advances have been made in the healthcare information field, combined with a rich history, and electronic medical record companies have evolved, changing electronic medical record management. With this in mind, lets take a look at EHR systems by looking at the start of EHR software, its mainstream adoption and digitization.

Before we five into the a comprehensive history of EHR systems, lets answer one important question: what is an EHR?

What is an EHR?

Before diving into the history of the EHR system (or EMR systems) it makes sense to ask the high-level, potentially obvious question: what is an EHR? What is the definition of electronic health record?

We will define Electronic Health Record (EHR) as a digital version of a patient’s comprehensive medical history. Designed to be shared and updated over time, an EHR system securely maintains patient information across different healthcare providers, including physicians, specialists, and pharmacies.

The EHR system encompass a patient’s medical history, medical health information, diagnoses, medications, immunization dates, radiology images, lab results, and even demographic data, all of which are vital for medical practices making informed healthcare decisions.

EHRs are much more than digitized paper records; they’re dynamic, interactive systems designed to improve efficiency and accuracy. Software from top EHR companies offer real-time access to patient data, facilitating communication among different healthcare providers for collaborative treatment.

From streamlining administrative tasks to enhancing patient care, EHR systems have become an indispensable tool in modern healthcare practice. With the “what is an EHR?” question and context out of the way, lets dive in to the history of electronic medical records and EHR software systems and how they became crucial to recording patient’s medical history, reducing medical errors, protecting patient records and securing patient data and overall how the electronic health record systems have revolutionized how healthcare professionals capture clinical data.

Electronic Health Records (EHRs): The Early Days

The history of EHRs and EMR companies began in the 1960s – the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota was one of the first major health systems (among a select few other healthcare providers) to adopt an EHR1 and move away from the massive swath of healthcare organizations keeping paper medical records. to adopt an EHR.In the 1960s, EMR programs and EHRs were so expensive that they were only used by the government in partnership with health organizations.

Throughout the 1970s, only the biggest hospitals could use them, and they were used for billing and scheduling and keeping basic personal health records for patients.

At the same time, during the 1960s, a new approach to patient records (still on paper) began to emerge. Referred to as the “problem-oriented” patient record, this approach added more robust information about the patients and over time evolved to become the version of electronic medical record we see today.

This approach was a breakthrough in medical recording. Previously, doctors had typically only recorded a patient’s diagnosis and the treatment they provided, but it ended there.  

As part of the “problem-oriented” medical record, clinicians began collecting and storing data about a patient’s history. When properly implemented, this model provided health care providers with a more effective means of communication among members of healthcare teams, while also facilitating the coordination of preventive care and maintenance.

As EHRs and EMR software programs became more affordable and available in the 1980s, they were developed with fields that could be filled in with clinical information and stored as an electronic health record.

How Portable Medical Records Became Electronic Health Records

With portability came the dawn of the computer era hospital management systems began to change. Many of the earliest computer applications in the 1970s were in use at hospitals and government institutions, but scarcely elsewhere.  At first, these applications were used predominantly for billing and scheduling purposes, and not EHRs specifically. 2

Then, thanks to the portable records model, large hospitals started to provide the same level of service for each patient without worrying that only specific providers had knowledge of that patient.

Computers, of course, really didn’t gain traction in smaller clinics and private practices until they became popular with the general public. Therefore medical charting systems were recorded manually until then. At this time we began seeing more on digital medical records and the idea of EHR systems.

Before the 1980s, it was rare to see a computer used at all in private practice, let alone for storing EMR or electronic health information and sensitive personal information (SPI).

Even though the portable record-keeping system of keeping patient medical history had become far more commonplace, records were still largely paper, which meant health records had to be physically stored and moved.

Business technology then became advanced enough that even paper records could be sent electronically, via fax, in cases where an office needed to get in touch with a patient’s family doctor in case of urgent care.

But, time is often of the essence in caregiving scenarios, and because of this, the electronic health record system of storing electronic patient data became the standard. Medical providers realized that in every medical specialty, from urgent care to rehab, from hospital to home, there were always unique cases that had to be resolved electronically.

This is where EHR development accelerated, influencing treatment plans and leveraging healthcare information at healthcare facilities across various care settings, from practice management to larger institutions of public health and preventative services. It was at this point that EHR adoption or the widespread adoption of EMR systems was here to stay.

The History of Electronic Records by Net Health infographic

The Internet and the Rise of the EHR

By the 1990s, technology had entered most medical offices, and computers were being used to a limited degree for record-keeping purposes. Specifically, EHRs were mostly seen record patient data at academic inpatient and outpatient medical facilities, and they included patient data interchange for claims processing and image scanning for document capture of medical histories.3

It wasn’t until the internet-age that large-scale changes became far more visible on the front of electronic health record keeping. Even in its early stages, the internet became a vital tool for recording and transferring prescription histories and other electronic medical records.

Finally, within the last decade or so, most major medical systems in the developed world could easily communicate with each other when needed. Electronic health record software is no longer a luxury, but necessary for optimal patient care and HIPAA compliance.

Electronic Health Records Today and the Future

In 2004, President George W. Bush created the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, which outlined a plan to ensure that most Americans had electronic health records within the next 10 years. 4

Additionally, these records were designed for medical practices and healthcare providers to:

  • Share information privately and securely with the patient’s authorization in an accessible patient portal
  • Help health care quality, prevent medical errors and reduce paperwork
  • Improve administrative efficiencies and health care quality for health and human services

As it is now, EMR software and EHR systems are increasingly paperless, although some private practices continue to use a combination of paper-based and computerized records. Patient medical records are more accessible than ever before, while also safely stored, with data technology becoming increasingly portable and comprehensive.

Current refinements in the EMR industry and as such, the electronic health record system, are aimed at the continued specialization of EHR systems to further streamline workflows, boost productivity and improve doctor-patient interactions. And so, it seems that EHRs will continue to make a mark in the healthcare industry for years to come. EHRs and electronic medical record implementation can also assist with things such as patient engagement, EHR documentation, improving patient outcomes, and even extends into occupational health EMR software.

After several years of developing electronic health record software solutions securely transmitting clinical data via electronic communication for a variety of healthcare organizations, Net Health understands the importance of electronic health records and is now leveraging the data within its specialized EHRs to provide insights that improve clinical decision-making through predictive healthcare analytics, driven by predictive analytics algorithms. It can also help healthcare informatics, revenue cycle management, patient engagement,

EHR systems have become integral in nursing and other healthcare fields, underscoring why electronic medical records are important. In closing summary, these systems streamline the management of patient information, ensuring healthcare professionals have real-time access to vital data. Different types of EHR systems cater to various healthcare settings, from hospitals to private practices.

Examples include occupation-specific platforms like occupational health software programs, practice management tools or physical therapy EMR software. Our electronic health records for therapists can efficiently manage disparate employee medical data, improving overall healthcare delivery, thanks to the computerization of health records, keeping vital health information and personal health records safe and secure. The cloud based EHR is crucial to quality care for most physicians. From individual patients to public health as a whole, this system of storing computer records has become the standard for quality improvement of healthcare facilities.

The evolution of electronic health records has led to specialized occupational health EMR software, physical therapy EHR software and wound care EHR software, among others, designed to meet specific industry needs. Such EHR systems and EMR software enhances the efficiency of medical practitioners by providing comprehensive electronic medical records software solutions.

These tools are vital for healthcare organizations in managing patient information, scheduling, and ensuring effective practice management. The advancements in EHR systems technology have made it possible to integrate various healthcare systems, allowing for seamless communication and coordination among healthcare providers, ultimately leading to improved patient care, while securely protecting health data and patient personal health information

Conclusions on The History of Electronic Health Records

Understanding the essence of Electronic Health Records (EHRs) requires deciphering the foundational terminology. EHR systems meaning extends beyond mere digital versions of patient paper charts; they represent a comprehensive platform where a patient’s medical history, diagnoses, medications, treatment plans, immunization dates, allergies, and test results are securely stored and easily accessible to authorized healthcare providers. The EHR meaning encompasses a holistic view of a patient’s health journey, enabling a seamless flow of information and facilitating better patient care.

The transition to what is an EHR platform is not just a technological upgrade but a significant shift in healthcare management. Successful EHR implementation is crucial for enhancing patient care, improving diagnosis accuracy, and ensuring the efficient operation of healthcare facilities.

However, the journey towards a successful EHR implementation project involves meticulous planning, staff training, and adapting workflows to integrate new digital tools effectively. By emphasizing the critical steps of EHR implementation, healthcare providers can navigate the complexities of this digital transformation, ensuring that the project delivers its intended benefits of improved patient outcomes and healthcare efficiency.

Are you looking for electronic medical records software vendors? The financial incentives are numerous when choosing the right EHR for storage of medical information. To learn more about the key features EMR systems should contain, to see an electronic health record example (EHR example) or to learn about how specialized electronic health record software and care setting tailored cloud based EHR systems can boost your revenue, inform treatment plans, improve patient outcomes and maximize efficiencies all while providing cost savings, schedule a demo with Net Health today.


1 Becker’s Hospital Review, “A History of EHRs: 10 Things to Know,” February 16, 2015.
2 & 3 National Center for Biotechnology Information, “Electronic Health Records: Then, Now, and in the Future,” May 20, 2016.
The White House Archives, “Transforming Health Care: The President’s Health Information Technology Plan,” 2004.

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