The How and The Why of Data Archiving in 10 Steps

What do you do with legacy data and applications after you rollout your new electronic health records system?

In a recent study of electronic health record (EHR) system buyers, 2015 marked the first time the number of clinicians looking to replace an existing EMR (electronic medical records) outnumbered the number of clinicians looking to purchase an EHR for the first time. Merger and acquisition are often leading causes of system replacement. That’s because of the cost and liability of running two systems. Also, the number of buyers replacing existing software has increased 59 percent since 2014. Many products are failing to meet physicians’ needs.

That said, it is important to focus on what to do with legacy applications and data and how to manage legacy patient data that did not get converted. An archive allows providers to decommission old systems that got replaced. It also provides an operational expense savings and a long-term secure repository for all types of information, including information that must be stored to comply with laws and regulations.

Here are some things to be mindful of when considering what to do with, as well as how to manage, your legacy applications and data:

  1. Cost Savings: A legacy EMR archive is a cost-effective solution to migrate legacy data sources into a single, secure repository that typically results in a return on investment within 18 to 24 months. Efforts to “keep the lights on” for an out of production system can get expensive. The operational expense savings for reduction in software maintenance, labor costs, and hardware upgrades can pay for the investment in archiving tools within 12 months.
  2. Data Discovery: Spreadsheets, text docs, presentations, and other files are critical to the daily operation of organizations. Obviously, you know these files are important, but do you know exactly where all this data is kept.
  3. Data Visibility: Preserving medical or employee records in a single location simplifies search and access, and enables you to quickly fulfill requests for information and reporting. It is common for healthcare organizations to have upwards of 30 disparate legacy systems up and running at one time. With that complexity, it’s wise to consult with trusted industry experts to help you properly and safely prioritize, and project manage the decommissioning of legacy systems. Minimizing the number of locations that data exists can also minimize the risk of security breaches.
  4. Data Management: Storing legacy data in multiple places causes more problems than it solves. It also silos data and increases the potential for security breaches. As many healthcare organizations strive for one common go-forward EHR or ERP system, they should also strive for one common archive. In addition, you should clean and purge unneeded files. Remove older files from file servers and replace them with “stubs” so you don’t disrupt end-users.
  5. Reduce Backup Window: Control your backup times. Backup times are now stretching to 16, 18 and in some cases, more than 24 hours. If you copy your archives, you no longer need to backup old historical data — thus reducing your backup times. In turn, you will free up your Tier 1 storage, reduce your media backup costs, and improve RPOs and RTOs.
  6. Reporting: View your files by server, owner, size, type, name, oldest, newest, largest, most frequently changed, and so on. This allows you to pinpoint and identify usage and abuse of Tier 1 storage.
  7. Accident Protection: Set policy rules to protect files from accidental deletion. Searching backup tapes to restore an individual file is an unnecessary waste of time (nor very fun either). Archiving allows very granular access to data, offering end-users access without IT intervention. In addition, a HIPAA-compliant archive safeguards historical patient records and simplifies user access.
  8. Data Governance Team: The implementation of a legacy EMR archive necessities the need for a cross-functional team to come together to make important decisions about how historical records are managed long-term. That includes developing guidelines that define the parameters of legacy health data storage, including retention and destruction policies. Your data governance team should define guidelines and develop processes that address the following areas:
    1. Strategy Development: Determining a plan for legacy data management and prioritizing the archival of numerous legacy data sources. The team must identify the necessary people, processes, and platforms to support this effort.
    2. Accountability: Defining accountability standards to ensure the storage of legacy health data and to ensure adherence to critical regulatory record retention requirements.
    3. Efficiency: Managing data systematically in a cross-functional team environment creates built-in efficiencies. This is most evident when a health system is in merger and acquisition mode. The onboarding of new hospitals or physician practices from a technology standpoint runs much more smoothly when strategies for migrating data from one platform to another are fully defined through a proven, repeatable process.
  9. Server Consolidation Removing old files and deduplication across your file servers can save you 60% to 70% and allow you to consolidate your servers.
  10. Meeting Record Retention Requirements: Securing records for the next 7 to 25 years (or in perpetuity) can be a challenge. The platforms housing data age: servers degrade and operating systems corrupt, thus placing your legacy data at risk. You could be fined by federal and state agencies if your organization is not complying with regulatory guidelines governing data retention. But as legacy EHR archives are primarily read-only data stores, the infrastructure required to run them is minimal and becomes easier to manage over time, especially when hosting is involved.

Archiving may not be the most exciting item on your IT, HIM, or legal “to-do list,” but it most certainly is a pressing issue. The benefits far outweigh the risks. A solid legacy data archive offers a smart step forward in managing historical patient and operational data. If done correctly, you’ll comply with a myriad of local, state, and federal regulations. It also offers a single, easy-to-use solution for managing, searching, and accessing historical information. As healthcare systems streamline their go-forward systems, so too should they streamline their archiving systems to support easy and efficient record retrieval.

Data archiving software, like Informatics Lifecycle Management, is still the best and easiest way to manage your data archiving requirements, target your files that are no longer in use, and get them off your Tier 1 storage.