September 16, 2021 | Net Health

3 Minute Read

Electronic Health Records: A Comprehensive History of the EHR

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.

The truth is, great advances have been made in the healthcare 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 the start of electronic health record software, its mainstream adoption and digitization.

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

What is an EHR?

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

Electronic health records (EHRs) encompass a patient’s medical history, 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, EHRs have become an indispensable tool in modern healthcare practice. With that context out of the way, lets dive in to the history of electronic medical records and EHR software.

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 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.

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

Even though the portable record-keeping system 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 system of storing e-health records 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.

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 at academic inpatient and outpatient medical facilities, and they included data interchange for claims processing and image scanning for document capture.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 records 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 electronic medical records 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. 

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 analytics, driven by predictive analytics algorithms. Learn more by scheduling a demo with Net Health.


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.

Share this post

Subscribe and See More