What’s the Difference Between Patient Portal and EMR?

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With more healthcare providers using electronic patient portals and medical records for better patient care, it’s easy to get lost in the sea of acronyms used in health information technology. Terms like EMR and Patient Portal are often interchanged because of their similarities, but they’re actually made for different purposes.

So how is Patient Portal different from EMR? Patient Portals contain EMRs, but patients aren’t allowed to update their information there. Instead, Patient Portals provide them with different ways to communicate with a physician, view lab results, pay bills, book an appointment, and more.

Patient Portal vs. EMR: Which One Should You Use?

With the advancements in medical technology, most providers turn to digital solutions in handling the medical information of patients. Two of the most popular options among healthcare providers are EMR Systems (used by about 89-90% of healthcare staff) and Patient Portals (adopted by about 90% of the healthcare centers in the country).  

Choosing between an EMR system or Patient Portal depends on the needs and priorities of the health care provider. To help you decide which solution works best for the healthcare organization, here are some of the most important details of EMR and Patient Portal:

 EMRPatient Portal
End-UserHealth care institutionsPatients
InformationImportant health information like medical conditions, family history, and prescriptionsImportant information uploaded by both the patient and the provider
AccessPatient health information is gathered and managed by authorized clinicians and medical staff from a single healthcare organization.Medical information and findings are uploaded by the health care provider. Patients only have limited access to what they can edit, but they may also use portals to contact their doctor.

EMR software is an excellent choice for organizations that provide specific healthcare services like psychiatry and dentistry. On the other hand, it’s better to pick Patient Portals for those who want to offer patient-centered care through accurate monitoring and improved preventative care.


Various graphs and statistics before doctor

An Electronic Medical Record (EMR) is the digital version of a paper chart that contains a person’s medical history, allergies, medications, diagnoses, and immunization. Most EMRs are designed to only be used by doctors and a medical care team from one healthcare organization. Although EMRs are convenient and easy to use for healthcare professionals under the same organization, it’s difficult to let other providers see the data unless it’s printed and mailed to them.

EMRs are often confused with other medical records like the Electronic Health Record (EHR) and Personal Health Record (PHR). Although they contain almost the same type of information, these medical records have a different level of accessibility in information sharing. An EHR may be accessed by all authorized clinicians involved in patient care while a PHR is managed by the patient. Medical information from a PHR is only accessible to healthcare providers if the patient decides to give their consent.

What is an EMR for?

An EMR is for logging all the important medical information of a patient into a web-based or server-based system. It makes the medical record accessible for all medical staff within the healthcare organization. Providers often utilize EMR systems through mobile apps or secure web pages.

The EMR is always updated whenever a patient walks into the clinic. It records the reason for the visit, any treatment or diagnosis provided, and lab results that might come later. Having a reliable EMR system is extremely important for all healthcare providers because it’s slowly starting to take over the paper record system.

Important Features of an EMR

EMR systems come in different forms depending on how the healthcare organization prefers them. Most of the software available in the market leaves providers with a lot of space for customization, which makes EMR systems a must-have for medical practitioners. But if you’re still looking around for the best modern EMR systems to use, here are some essential features to consider:

  • Web and mobile accessibility
  • Billing
  • Security features
  • Document management and sharing within the health organization
  • Integrations
  • Appointment schedule management
  • Communicative tools
  • Organized storage of documents
  • Prescription writing

Pros and Cons of Using an EMR

Although there are other similar solutions, some providers still use the EMR system for keeping their medical records organized and accessible in one place. If you’re considering using an EMR software too, here are a few benefits and disadvantages of EMR to help you make the right decision:


  • Easy Online Access – Having a digital copy of the patient’s medical record makes it easy for the clinician to access the health information they need quickly. It also allows other physicians to check the patient’s records and clinical conditions in case the patient needs immediate care, treatment, or diagnosis while their primary care doctor is away.
  • Better Security – Paper-based medical record systems are often vulnerable to getting destroyed, lost, or stolen. Digital EMR systems, especially web-based ones, come with extra cybersecurity measures to prevent hackers from stealing patient information. Storing years of information in the cloud-based system serves as a backup plan that prevents the complete loss of patient records.
  • Save More Time and Money – Filling in countless paperwork is useless when there’s a way to finish everything at once. With fewer administrative tasks to handle, healthcare professionals focus more on providing the best medical care for the patients. Using an EMR system is also a lot cheaper than other similar solutions because it has a simpler interface than others.
  • Improved Communication – EMR systems keep communications between staff smooth. Instead of writing down important information on a piece of paper that might get lost or misunderstood, the medical staff gains access to the right medical record they’re looking for with just a few clicks.
  • Accurate Patient Information – Healthcare providers have a clear understanding of the patient’s health status just by looking at the information on the EMR. These digital systems are easier to update compared to paper-based records. They also help improve the accuracy and effectiveness of the treatment, diagnosis, and care provided by the attending physician.


Although EMR systems are extremely helpful for safekeeping patient records under one healthcare organization, they also have a few drawbacks that might affect how the provider operates like:

  • EMR systems don’t have the interoperability or information sharing feature that allows them to transfer and view data from other clinics or providers. Physical transfer of data might be needed since most providers use different EMR systems.
  • Using EMR systems requires providers to train their staff on how to use the software correctly. EMR systems are much simpler to use than other similar solutions, but everyone who uses them to access patient information should still attend the right training.
  • Providers might incur penalties if their EMR system doesn’t meet the requirements of Meaningful Use set by the US Department of Health and Human Services. Make sure to ask someone to communicate with the EMR software provider about the deadlines and requirements of Meaningful Use.

Patient Portal

Online medical consultation

Patient portals are secure websites accessible to patients at any time, as long as they have an internet connection. A secure portal gives them access to their personal health information using a username and password.

Patients who want to access health information like billing, medications, doctor visits, allergies, and lab results are required to coordinate with the provider’s administrative staff first to help set up their medical portal account.

Patient portals are sometimes seen as a separate solution to EMRs, EHRs, and PHRs. However, most providers and developers describe Patient Portals as “PHRs tied to EHRs.”

What is a Patient Portal for?

These secure portals were created to improve interaction and communication between the patient and the health care team members. These systems encourage patients to assume a more active role in their health and wellness by providing them with easily accessible health records and a convenient way to contact their physician.

Patient portals (like Google Health) and are mostly utilized for retrieval of lab results, updating patient profiles, and contacting healthcare professionals and insurance providers. Some of these systems also allow patients to pay bills or book appointments with just a few clicks. Patient portals are important for healthcare providers because they help promote loyalty, streamline workflows, manage costs, and increase patient engagement.

Important Features of a Patient Portal

A patient portal is an extremely helpful tool that helps improve patient care provided by health care institutions. However, each provider has a different set of needs that might not be met by just any patient portal software. If you’re still looking for a patient portal to use, here are some essential features to consider:

  • HIPAA-compliant messaging
  • Online payments
  • Patient registration
  • Clinical summaries
  • Prescription renewals and medication lists
  • Easy to update demographic information
  • Appointment reminders that are sent to the patient’s email address and contact number
  • Appointment scheduling
  • Discharge summaries
  • Test and lab results
  • Medical history
  • Educational material to improve health literacy among patients
  • Email updates

Pros and Cons of Using a Patient Portal

Find out if a patient portal is a right solution for the healthcare organization by considering these benefits and disadvantages:


  • Improved Efficiency – Patient portals make communication between patient and provider a lot easier. These platforms allow patients to fill out their demographic information digitally. Signing new patients only needs to be done once, which results in fewer errors and more consistent answers.
  • Streamlined Workflow – Aside from allowing easier communication between patients and providers, patient portals also help streamline office workflow and better coordination among healthcare staff. The health care team members turn their focus on creating a better health outcome for patients since their time isn’t spent on simple and repetitive tasks anymore.
  • Fewer Medical Information Errors – When the medical staff takes phone calls from the patient, they often have to relay important patient information to assigned physicians and nurses. This leads to misinterpretations of medical issues and patient needs. Receiving written messages directly from patients allows the attending doctor to interpret the information correctly and create the right decisions promptly.
  • Use of Telemedicine – Patient portals also help providers facilitate telemedicine, a system that enables a patient to consult with their physician online. This allows providers to check the patient's health between visits, effectively reducing unnecessary patient visits and letting doctors accommodate more people that need their immediate attention.
  • Quick Patient Access – Most inpatient portals allow patients to directly contact their doctors. They may also book follow-up appointments online, saving a lot of time for nurses and receptionists. Lab results are also viewable in the active portal, which is why there’s no need to wait for lab results through the mail or over the phone.


Although more providers have started patient portals and electronic health record adoption, there are still mixed reviews about this solution. Here are some of the biggest challenges in using patient portals:

  • Some patient portals are badly designed and difficult to navigate for most patients, which is why it’s always important to consider the portal’s interface before settling on an option.
  • Paying for patient portals might be expensive for many providers so make sure to shop around first to find the best deal for the healthcare practice.
  • Although patient portals are made to allow better access for patients, most of them don’t utilize the system because they’re used to contacting the receptionist and nurses for their needs.

Manage Medical Records with Ease Using Calysta EMR

Looking for software to help manage medical records with ease? Calysta EMR is an all-in-one solution that allows providers to organize and keep electronic medical records in the cloud-based platform for a more secure EMR management. It’s an aesthetics-focused software that’s also customizable to suit most practices.

Find out how Calysta EMR helps dermatologists and physicians focus more on providing better care and treatment for their patients by organizing medical records with ease. Contact us today to claim a 1-month free trial of this all-in-one EMR solution.

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