Your Guide to Software Selection

Ambulatory EHR vs Inpatient EHR

The popularity of health information technology is rising at an ever-increasing rate, and EHR adoption is no different. This has medical practices, hospitals and healthcare businesses alike asking: “How do I know the difference between ambulatory EHR vs inpatient EHR?” You may benefit from implementing both of these systems, or you may only need one or the other. Knowing the differences between the two can help you choose your best-fit electronic health records (EHR) vendor. As such, here’s an overview of these two specific pieces of EHR technology:

Inpatient EHR

As you probably guessed, inpatient EHR systems were designed to manage inpatient data. Therefore, inpatient EHR systems are most commonly used by hospitals. From an IT perspective, a hospital isn’t a single entity, but rather a group of various departments and systems.

In the not-too-distant past, hospitals purchased and installed software designed for each specific department, e.g. the in-house lab department, the radiology department, billing systems and several others that perform various functions for the hospital. Each department had to separately print out the results for all the different patients they collected. In addition, data entry was done manually by each department, increasing the likelihood of duplicate or inaccurate data.

Many hospitals still lie in this challenging stage where they can’t get their systems to communicate with each other. As EHRs have grown more refined, they’ve become the hub that links each and every department. The lab, pharmacy, x-ray and many other departments required customization and integration. An inpatient EHR integrates these systems, sharing patient information between each of the various hospital departments, ensuring consistent data throughout the hospital.

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Ambulatory EHR

Ambulatory EHR, on the other hand, is designed for use in outpatient care facilities and smaller practices. In general, ambulatory EHR solutions are simpler than inpatient EHRs, because they deal with a single practice and its patients rather than the complex web of hospital departments that any one patient may interact with.

Ambulatory EHR systems have the advantage of making it easier for physicians to track a patient’s medical records and long-term care. Physicians use these systems to collect detailed, specific information about each patient, providing complete documentation of their personal health records. The history documented includes injuries, diagnoses, treatments, prescriptions, visits and much more. This comprehensive database helps physicians see the big medical picture, which in turn makes future diagnosis easier.

For example, this capability makes patterns easier to see, which could reveal anything from a seasonal allergy to a serious problem that increased in frequency as time went on. Healthcare businesses have capitalized on this information by providing practices with patient portals. Integrating an ambulatory EHR solution with a patient portal gives patients access to their up-to-date medical records. In recent years, this has become more of a necessary EHR feature than a “nice-to-have” feature.

Varying Certification Criteria

Although both ambulatory and inpatient require certification, the criteria for each is different, as you might expect. Inpatient EHR certification focuses mostly on orders and medication management. The features required to fulfill this need include electronic medication administration records and medication reconciliation. Ambulatory EHR certification, on the other hand, requires more patient-centric capabilities. For example, ePrescribing, patient reminders, clinical summaries and timely access are just a few of ambulatory EHR certification requirements.

There are, however, several similarities between the two types of certifications. As with most healthcare systems, security and note taking are high priorities, as are drug-to-drug and drug-to-allergy interaction checks. Additionally, physician support in the form of computerized provider order entry (CPOE) and clinical decision support are required for both certifications.

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Ambulatory EHR vs Inpatient EHR: Which to Choose?

So after all this information, which system do you think will work best? If you’re a single practice, an ambulatory EHR system may be perfect. If you’re a part of a chain of practices, you could probably use either ambulatory or inpatient EHR. And if you’re a hospital or a chain of hospitals, you probably want to implement both. However, all that matters is what your particular healthcare business needs.

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