Types of digital health records

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Digital Health Evidence Review: This section describes the difference between the types of electronic health information that are presented on this site.

What are the differences between electronic medical records (EMRs), electronic health records (EHRs), and personal health records (PHRs)?

The terms Electronic Medical Record (EMR), Electronic Health Record (EHR) and Personal Health Record (PHR) are often used interchangeably as all three types of health records can contain similar information. However, the key distinction between EMRs, EHRs [1] and PHRs [2] is access to the record:

Electronic Medical Record (EMR)
Electronic Medical Record

EMRs contain information that is created and resides within a single healthcare organisation (such as a clinic, medical centre, or a hospital) [1]

Electronic Health Record (EHR)
Electronic Health Record

EHRs contain information that can be managed, added to and accessed across multiple healthcare organisations [1]

Personal Health Record (PHR)
Personal Health Record

A PHR is an electronic application through which individuals can access, manage and share their health information, and that of others for whom they are authorised, in a private, secure and confidential environment [2]

What is a portal?

The distinction between EHRs and PHRs is becoming blurred with the emerging use of consumer portals. Consumer portals are not records as such, but a convenient way of viewing or presenting information for consumers.

Portals are an extension of EHRs that offer a way for healthcare providers to allow individuals online access to information in their EHR. [3] A portal is typically controlled by the system from which the information is sourced (i.e. EHR).


My Health Record provides a secure online summary of an individual’s health information and this review provides additional information about the features of My Health Record. In order to complement the information provided on Australia’s My Health Record system, this site aims to focus on shared digital health information systems at a national level. Best efforts were made to present a global contextual view and then explore data for countries where this information was readily available. International experience with EHRs, PHRs and portals have all been included on this site in order to capture the experience of both healthcare providers and patients with electronic health information focussing on large scale digital health implementations.

1 The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) 2015. What are the differences between electronic medical records, electronic health records, and personal health records?
Available from: https://www.healthit.gov/providers-professionals/faqs/what-are-differences-between-electronic-medical-records-electronic [Accessed 21st December 2017].

2Tang PC, Ash JS, Bates DW, Overhage JM, Sands, DZ. Personal Health Records: Definitions, Benefits, and Strategies for Overcoming Barriers to Adoption. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association. 2006; 13(2):121-126.

3 World Health Organization (WHO). Electronic Tools: Technical Series on Safer Primary Care. 2016.