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Electronic Health Records

Medically reviewed by: Amy E. Renwick, MD

What Are EHRs?

Electronic health records (EHR) — also called electronic medical records (EMR) — help patients as well as health care providers. That's because they make it easier for you (and your parents, depending on your age) to see your health records.

An EHR is a computerized collection of a patient's health records. EHRs include information like your age, gender, ethnicity, health history, medicines, allergies, immunization status, lab test results, hospital discharge instructions, and billing information.

Your health care providers can share these digital health records if they're in the same hospital, clinic, or health care system. So, for example, if you go to a dermatologist, an asthma specialist, and your primary care doctor in the same system, all these doctors see the same records.

If one doctor orders a lab test, they all can see the results. If one doctor puts you on a new medicine, the others get to see what it is. So there's less chance of one health care provider prescribing a medicine that could cause problems if it's used with another medicine.

What Are the Benefits of EHRs?

Because EHRs improve how well your doctors talk to each other and coordinate your treatment, they can enhance your care. Here are some ways they can help:

  • Fewer mistakes. When health care providers and nurses take notes, they might abbreviate to save time. So there's a risk that someone else looking at the chart won't understand the abbreviation and have to find out what it means. EHR software helps clinicians be both detailed and fast by providing a series of prompts and dropdown menus to click through.
  • Education. Being able to see your medical files lets you take part in your own health care. You can view test results, keep track of things like glucose if you have diabetes, review your medical team's instructions, and even check for errors.
  • Security. There's always the chance that paper records can get lost or misfiled or somehow damaged. There's less chance of this happening with electronic records — and most are password protected, so if they do get lost other people won't have access to them.

Who Can See My Records?

A federal law called the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) specifies who is allowed to see your medical records.

Once you are legally an adult, only you and your medical team will have access to your records, unless you give someone else (like a parent) permission to see them. In many places, the law also keeps parts of teens’ medical records private even before they are adults.

Don't worry, for example, if your nosy neighbor works in the hospital where you get treatment. HIPAA bars that person from snooping into your records. In fact, if someone tries to view private information, it might trip an alarm in the computer system and start a trace on who tried to look at that information.

Part of HIPAA called the Security Rule protects the storage and transfer of EHRs. If your doctor's office or hospital sends health information electronically, they must use safeguards that make sure it is accessed only by those allowed to see it.

Doctors encourage teens to get involved in making health care decisions, and understanding EHRs are a great way to do that. Looking at yours can help you get an idea of what's involved in managing your own medical care.

Some systems let you interact with your health care provider or nurse online. You might be able to ask questions that way, or set up and manage appointments. If your doctor's office uses EHRs, ask how to get started.

Medically reviewed by: Amy E. Renwick, MD
Date reviewed: August 2023