You have just replaced your legacy hospital, EHR, lab or practice management system with newer technology. One of the decisions you now have to make is how best to retain protected health information (PHI) in accordance with state, federal and agency medical record retention mandates.
As a full system EMR migration and data conversion is often too costly and complex, many healthcare providers convert only demographics and key clinical or financial data elements to the new system. They then tend to leave the legacy system up and running so they can access historical patient data as inquiries come in from patients, payers, employers, auditors or lawyers. While this may seem to be the simplest option, it can be laden with cost, especially when you consider the length of time (7-25+ years depending on state, medical specialty and facility type) that medical records must be retained. An alternative option is health data archiving, a long-term medical data storage strategy that reduces or eliminates legacy system management costs.
Here are five costs associated with running a legacy system for health data retention purposes:
- Software – The most obvious cost comes from legacy vendor software support and maintenance. Even when the software is out of daily production and operating in read-only mode, providers must typically continue to pay maintenance fees. With health data archiving, there is an upfront fee, but much less ongoing expense as the original healthcare application is decommissioned after the data is extracted and migrated to the archive.
- Hardware – The next cost comes with continuing to administrate the hardware and servers required to run the system. Your staff will spend time and money to troubleshoot and maintain outdated technology. Consider how many times you may need to repair or replace equipment during the state- mandated medical retention time period. A health data archive minimizes hardware cost as time passes, requiring less infrastructure for historical patient data to be accessed.
- Training – Over time, users of the legacy health system will come and go. That means there will be fewer and fewer users who know how to operate the legacy system to access patient history. This results in a loss of intellectual capital which creates a dependency on the knowledgeable users who remain or a need to train new users on an outdated piece of technology. It could also result in high-cost involvement from the legacy system vendor. Designed as view-only solutions for accessing historical patient data, health data archives typically require little to no up-front or ongoing training.
- Liability Cost – Older systems often break or degrade over time. If you decide to keep the legacy system but do not continue with a maintenance contract then you are putting your facility or practice at legal risk. If you are required by auditors or the courts to present a medical record but cannot access it then you may have to settle at high cost. It is essential to consider the legal liability of not having access to medical record data and the amount this liability could cost if issues arise. An archive of health data provides easy access to users in a more streamlined and up to date infrastructure.
- Opportunity Cost – Every hour that your IT staff spends dealing with the legacy system(s) is time that they do not have to devote to other projects or integrating newer technologies. Many providers find that, over time, the lost opportunities for increased efficiency and security add up to a significant amount. Consider what technology projects are on your to-do list and how supporting the legacy system may compromise these tasks. Then, consider the landscape of your IT portfolio if one or more disparate legacy systems were merged into a common archive.
What other costs have you found with running a legacy healthcare system? Could those costs be reduced or eliminated with a health data archiving solution?