Does your data management strategy consider data trapped in legacy systems?

How many legacy applications do you maintain within your organization? You likely manage PACS, EHRs and ERP systems, and more. Many healthcare organizations have hundreds of applications currently in use within their organization and that often includes systems that are not accounted for such as specialty department applications and long forgotten data sources. In addition to costing organizations unnecessarily in the form of maintenance, upgrades and personnel, these legacy applications are creating risk to the organization in terms of compliance and, potentially, to patient care.

As organizations transition to newer technology, the legacy applications still hold one crucial item—critical data. Unfortunately, many healthcare organizations do not have a strategic plan for moving the data out of the legacy application into a secure location.

Healthcare organizations must have a strategy for migrating legacy data

While it’s tempting to think the best solution is maintaining the legacy application to preserve data, there are significant risks to this approach:

  • Cost – Maintaining these applications contributes to the bottom line. There are the obvious costs associated with keeping these systems operational such as software maintenance, infrastructure (hardware and software) and IT resources (labor).
  • Analytics – The data in these applications may be useful to the organization (i.e. patient care history), but it usually becomes “trapped” within the retired application and disconnected from the rest of the organization’s data.
  • Security – Legacy applications may be running on equipment that is no longer able to be upgraded and therefore create unprotected points of data compromise.
  • Retention –Data retention must comply with organizational policies, and federal regulatory requirements, yet keeping data in its present form can be inefficient.

While these risks must be addressed, many healthcare systems do not have the in-house expertise required to successfully migrate data from legacy applications. In many cases, organizations that initially deploy their data management strategies themselves will often end up engaging experts from outside the organization to complete the migration projects.

Add your legacy data migration plan to your data management strategy

With a plan for migrating data from legacy applications, organizations are prepared to manage the lifecycle of their applications and preserve important data that must be kept even after a legacy application is shut down.

Implementing such a strategy results in data that remains usable and accessible even after the legacy system is no longer available. This also minimizes security risks by moving the data to a solution designed to help manage the lifecycle of that data. System consolidation through decommissioning and migration is an investment in better utilization of your IT resources and budget. By migrating important data to new, more efficient storage that provides more homogenous and secure access, risks are averted. Healthcare organizations are also able to avoid the risks of securing disparate silos of data and having pertinent data to not be accessible to clinicians. By managing data from legacy applications in a programmatic manner your organization has a clearer picture of your patients’ information, which can be used for analytics and other purposes. Additionally, costs associated with managing older data typically decline with the elimination of legacy applications.

Before creating a migration plan, healthcare organizations should take the following steps:

Review legacy applications and data to get a complete picture of what needs to be migrated.

  • How many legacy systems contain critical data?
  • What type of information is contained within the legacy systems?
  • What is the corresponding technical infrastructure of the applications?
  • What will be the impact to end user workflow by migrating the data to another solution such as a viewer or look-up?

Decide if the data will be maintained for data retention requirements or potentially used for additional care, interfacing or analytical objectives. If the data is required for retention, determine the length-of-time requirements and confirm who will need access to the data.

Select a vendor for legacy system data migration

Since migrating legacy data often means entrusting your healthcare system’s data to someone outside of your organization, it’s important to select a vendor with specialized expertise.

  • Does the solution result in the decommissioning of the legacy application? If not, then you will still pay for maintaining the application, thereby reducing your cost savings.
  • Will the data be protected and retained per regulatory policies? Otherwise, you may find yourself facing legal or compliance violations or be forced to continue maintaining the legacy application.
  • What is the vendor’s experience with migrating HIT data? Find out if the vendor has worked with projects involving multiple systems. Also ask if their previous projects required a custom approach to data extraction.
  • Is the vendor’s approach customized to your healthcare system? Every healthcare organization’s data is unique as are its workflows. Without a custom approach, your migrated data may be unusable or unreliable.
  • Will the migrated data be standardized? It’s important that the data is usable and accessible from other systems and by other entities.

Healthcare organizations with successful legacy management solutions benefit from a more streamlined user access to legacy data sets that help protect the organization from compliance and patient care issues. By containing this data in a secure infrastructure with a smaller footprint than the original data, healthcare organizations also reduce expenses. Healthcare organizations taking a proactive approach to legacy data management can then turn to focus their full attention on providing the best patient care possible.