The Hospital Executive’s Guide to Managing Legacy Applications

Digital transformation and innovation are always top of mind for healthcare leaders, but if old technology keeps holding you back, you’re not alone: A 2021 HIMSS study found that 73% of healthcare organizations are running applications or storing data on legacy systems. 

The challenges associated with maintaining these systems are numerous, but time and resource constraints often force technical upgrades to the backburner, leading organizations to hang onto systems or applications long past their usefulness.  

In theory, medical records that aren’t actively being used for patient care should be regularly archived. In practice, the data often sits forgotten for an indefinite period due to poor management of legacy systems and applications.  

The good news is, legacy system archiving has become a lot less daunting in recent years. New technologies remove the need for complex extract, transfer, load (ETL) workflows and make it easier for users to access archived data.  

This guide can help you better manage your legacy applications and archive systems in a way that gets you the best results.  

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of healthcare organizations are running applications or storing data on legacy systems.

hospital exec on laptop

CHAPTER 1

Understanding When It’s Time to Archive Your Legacy Applications

While many things in healthcare are unpredictable, the healthcare data life cycle isn’t one of them.

It begins when patient data is collected and stored in an electronic medical record (EMR). The data resides in the organization’s system for a while, ready to be accessed when a clinician needs it. But eventually, that data may stop being immediately relevant to patient care.

At that point, it needs to be archived. However, far too many organizations put off archiving data, instead letting it pile up in outdated, costly systems.

If this sounds familiar, your organization may need to act. If you’re wondering when it’s time to bite the bullet and get serious about data archiving, this chapter can help.

There are many challenges posed by holding on to legacy systems. They increase costs, complicate release-of-information workflows, and frustrate users who need timely access to healthcare data so they can take care of patients.

A large transformation like data archiving is intimidating for any organization. With all the challenges introduced by legacy data, however, now may be the time to gather your courage and tackle it.

Here are seven signs that archiving your medical records storage should be one of your top priorities.

Hospitals that haven’t undertaken an archiving effort often rely on several systems to maintain healthcare data outside of their electronic health record (EHR). This puts the onus on users to remember where that data is stored and how to access it—contributing to provider burnout and medical errors. Archiving facilitates timely access to healthcare data because it puts all data in a centralized location.

The 21st Century Cures Act mandates that electronic health information be immediately accessible to patients, providers, and payers. However, if your organization hasn’t archived its medical records, the staff in the Health Information Management (HIM) department may not have easy access to healthcare data—or even know where that data is. This can easily lead to costly fines and public relations nightmares.

For three years in a row, healthcare has been the industry with the highest number of data breaches, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center’s (ITRC) 2022 Annual Data Breach Report.

Legacy systems pose a significant cybersecurity threat because they’re not built using the latest security tools and techniques. However, archiving your medical records storage enables you to maintain optimal data security.

If you have outdated tools and processes, replacing old servers can cause a scramble. Archiving data saves you headaches when it’s time to modernize and safeguards you against the risks posed by outdated systems, such as data loss.

If you lose the specific technical expertise needed to manage legacy systems, those systems become black holes. Archiving medical records, on the other hand, makes information immediately accessible to everyone.

Healthcare organizations often pay a recurring licensing fee to retain access to healthcare data. There are also unexpected costs from the productivity loss caused by slower hardware, the time spent updating the legacy systems, and other inefficiencies. Archiving allows for access to healthcare data at a fraction of the cost while eliminating these costs.

If your hospital or clinic is being acquired, it’s likely you’ll be required to migrate to a different EHR. You’ll need a top-tier archiving solution to ensure timely access to healthcare data originally created in the old system.

Five Hidden—And Not So Hidden—Costs Of Maintaining Legacy Systems In Healthcare

In times of slim operating margins, healthcare leaders are doing everything they can to contain costs.

The following hidden and not-so-hidden costs of legacy systems in healthcare further illustrate why data archiving is a smart, economical option.

Legacy systems require ongoing support, maintenance, and security even if users don’t access the applications regularly (or at all). This can easily translate to significant spending with minimal return on investment.

A single cybersecurity breach could easily exceed the cost of an entire data archiving project. IBM X-Force’s latest Cost of a Data Breach Report estimated that breaches in healthcare average $10.1 million when both direct and indirect costs (including penalties, ransomware payments, and extra IT staff time) are accounted for. 

Maintaining legacy systems imposes a huge drain on the efficiency of the entire health information (HI) department. Accessing these systems to extract data requires separate logins and intimate knowledge of what data is stored where. As a result, responding to requests for information becomes frustrating and time consuming, and it can be easy to overlook information if you don’t know where it lives.

A single fine for information blocking can negatively impact a healthcare organization’s finances in unexpected and potentially catastrophic ways. In fact, a new federal rule establishes penalties of up to $1 million per violation of information blocking requirements in the 21st Century Cures Act. EMR data archiving promotes timely responses to all requests for information and mitigates the risk of costly fines and penalties. 

When clinicians can’t access data that’s siloed in legacy systems, the risks to patient safety surge. Meanwhile, if health information management (HIM) staff can’t access and provide clinicians with older patient data immediately upon being asked, there could be dire consequences to a patient, and the organization could be at risk of a lawsuit.

Data archiving is clearly a lower-cost alternative to maintaining legacy systems in healthcare. When completed with a thorough understanding of data retention requirements, archiving can result in a more efficient, secure, and cost-effective organization.

If there’s anything you can usually count on in cybersecurity circles, it’s annual reports about healthcare data breaches happening more frequently and increasing in severity. 2023 was no exception—a record 133 million healthcare records were exposed.

Healthcare leaders cannot assume their organization’s data is safe—especially data residing in legacy systems.

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healthcare records were exposed in 2023

Legacy technology represents the third-biggest security challenge for healthcare cybersecurity programs.  

Why do legacy systems and technologies pose such a significant threat? Because they’re old, obsolete, and outdated.  

Manufacturers don’t often support legacy technology, meaning healthcare data security patches and other upgrades simply aren’t available. Without these critical updates, attackers can easily exploit vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access.  

Additionally, legacy systems and technologies may have outdated open-source code, making it difficult for IT staff trained in newer technologies to identify and address vulnerabilities.  

The barriers that legacy technologies pose to effective healthcare data security unfortunately don’t stop there. Legacy systems are often incompatible with newer security features, having been developed before those features became widespread. As a result, they lack the ability to support many critical tools that are essential to a top-notch security operation, including advanced encryption, 24/7 system monitoring, role-based access, and multi-factor authentication. 

In addition, legacy systems may not comply with current regulations for protecting patient data. Or in some cases, audit trails and logs could be in a proprietary format that no one can access or analyze. If a hacker exploits a legacy system or technology without triggering any alerts or logs, they can access valuable data—and potentially remain undetected for lengthy periods of time.  

Here’s the bottom line: Legacy systems continue to pose a threat despite an organization’s best efforts to promote cybersecurity. The good news? Archiving mitigates security risk.

Here are three ways in which data security in healthcare benefits from archiving:

  1. Data is moved to a cloud-based location that enables better access controls that protect against data breaches.

  2. Providers can better meet compliance and regulatory standards with the stronger data governance strategy that archiving contributes to.

  3. Archiving data to a cloud-based solution reduces the overall surface of attack, meaning data is better protected while the organization can preserve cybersecurity resources.

Each stage of the healthcare data life cycle is important, but it’s the archiving stage that often presents the biggest opportunity for cost savings.

Data archiving involves moving to long-term storage patient records that are no longer needed for active patient care but that must be retained for legal and regulatory reasons. Proper archiving is critical for both operational efficiency and compliance, but despite its importance, it’s often the most overlooked stage of the healthcare data lifecycle.

Why is data archiving typically overlooked? Once the data is no longer relevant to clinical care, it’s sometimes easy to forget it even exists. It’s the whole notion of “out of sight, out of mind.”

In addition, organizations put off data archiving because they falsely assume it requires complex data mapping and a lengthy governance process—the slow and tedious process of ETL (extract, transform, load).

Organizations subsequently fall into the trap of continuing to maintain dozens or even hundreds of legacy systems indefinitely. The cost of these legacy systems? Potentially millions of dollars annually, lost to maintenance, noncompliance, cyber breaches, and more.

These four tips can help healthcare organizations incorporate data archiving into their processes instead of letting it fall by the wayside:

Establish a data governance framework.

This framework should address guiding principles, key data steward roles and responsibilities, policies and procedures, and more. Be particularly mindful of who decides what happens with patient data once it’s no longer relevant.

Create a policy that activates data archiving.

An archive policy based on state-, record type-, and organization-specific requirements and other variables should clearly specify how long the healthcare data must be retained and what should be done with it after that time.  

Choose the right data archiving partner.

While traditional legacy systems rely heavily on the data manipulation process known as ETL, more innovative vendors leverage a cloud-based archiving platform that allows organizations to retire and archive systems with less time, cost, and resources.

Don’t forget data disposal.

There will eventually come a time when archiving is no longer necessary. Regularly disposing of unneeded data can also reduce costs and mitigate risk.

doctor and nurse looking at tablet

CHAPTER 2

Common Scenarios for Archiving Legacy Applications

Nothing can stay the same forever, especially not the technology suite being used by a healthcare organization. Eventually, you’ll need to adopt newer systems or sunset old applications. When changes like these occur, it’s essential that you know what you’re doing with your legacy applications.

This chapter looks at three common scenarios that impact healthcare technology suites and examines how organizations can manage their legacy data in each scenario.

An EMR conversion brings with it an assortment of questions, one of the most critical being: What will happen to all existing (legacy) EMR data?

Organizations need to maintain that data to provide safe patient care and meet compliance regulations, but it’s not actively being used. Decisions must be made about how to store it in a cost-effective way while ensuring it remains accessible.

Many healthcare organizations assume there’s only one way to handle legacy data during an EMR conversion: extract, transform, and load (ETL) it into the new system.

While an ETL approach may be necessary for newer legacy data, its cumbersome nature makes it less ideal for older data. Rather than engage in this labor- and resource-intensive process, organizations often decide to simply leave the data in legacy systems, where it’s unfortunately inaccessible from the new EMR.

But with the right technology, this patchwork of data availability can be avoided. While organizations must use ETL for newer data necessary for direct patient care, they don’t need it for older data.

Instead, they can opt for a newer enterprise archiving solution (EAS) that gives organizations the ability to access their legacy EMR data from within their new EMR without the burden of an ETL conversion.

The following are a few dos and don’ts to help healthcare organizations identify the most cost-effective, efficient approach to an EMR archiving strategy.

Work with a data archiving partner to identify strategic initiatives, prioritize archiving projects based on need, and determine what you must convert with ETL and what can be converted with a more modern EMR archiving technology.

This includes state- and facility-specific requirements for patient records, billing data, and other types of records. Consider both the sensitivity and importance of the data when thinking about retention.

Physicians and health information management staff need quick, frictionless access to trustworthy legacy patient data.

This includes using automated tools to transfer data whenever possible.

Ensure that data transferred to the new EMR is accurate and complete.

With novel EMR archive technology, the amount of money saved on maintenance fees and lost efficiency far outweighs the long-term cost of the solution used to archive old EMR data.

Even big EMR vendors don’t have the resources necessary to do this, and some may even require organizations to sign attestations acknowledging that at least 20% of the data has not been validated.

Healthcare organizations may need to securely delete data from storage systems or shred physical records after an EMR conversion.

At some point, you’ll need to terminate a medical data management system or application. For any number of reasons, “sunsetting” — or phasing out — a software program eventually becomes unavoidable. But with healthcare’s uniquely sensitive data collection and storage requirements, there are some crucial concepts to keep in mind when making this change.

Let’s dive into why it’s important for organizations to occasionally sunset applications and how to plan a smooth landing.

In many cases, organizations end up holding onto legacy systems and applications for as long as possible. They’re often afraid of perceived high costs associated with data archiving, data loss, and business disruptions, among other things.

However, organizations that decide to sunset outdated legacy systems and applications sooner rather than later often report significant positive financial and operational benefits.

Still, the sunsetting process is nuanced and often requires healthcare organizations to address medical data management more proactively. This is especially true when sunsetting a legacy EMR system, as organizations need to ensure efficient data archiving so providers and staff can access information in a timely manner.

The good news is that legacy EMR applications and other healthcare data systems don’t sunset overnight. Organizations usually have plenty of time to address potential challenges and perfect their medical data management and security postures in advance.

Before beginning to transition away from a legacy system, consider taking these steps: 

  • Understand data retention requirements.

  • Assess data migration needs.

  • Determine what external entities rely on data stored in the legacy application.

  • Identify applications that integrate with the one that will sunset.

  • Consider departments and users that the phase-out will impact.

After you have phased out a legacy system, make sure you have plans for handling:

  • Data storage

  • Data access

  • Data disposal

  • Data ownership

During the sunsetting process, organizations can unfortunately run into several potential challenges. Some of them include:

  • Needing more time and resources for the labor-intensive process of validating legacy data.

  • Having to classify which legacy data to convert into an existing platform vs. archive.

  • Not having sufficient internal expertise to manage the phase-out process effectively.

It’s important to proactively acknowledge these challenges. If they’re not handled properly when they occur, organizations could face:

  • Business disruption

  • Increased cost

  • Loss of critical data

  • Loss of reputation

  • Regulatory fines and legal implications

  • Stakeholder dissatisfaction

Ideally, organizations can avoid these challenges by developing a formal medical data management policy that specifically addresses how to phase out healthcare data systems or applications.

  • Audits 

    After shutdown, the organization runs a thorough review to ensure that all legacy data was appropriately handled.  

  • Communication plan 
    All users and stakeholders must receive immediate notification regarding the shutdown, including the rationale behind it, the process, timeline, and what they can expect.  

  • Contingency plan 
    To facilitate continuity of care, there must be a plan in place for addressing potential rollbacks or unexpected challenges.  

  • Procedure 
    This includes a step-by-step process for medical data management when a legacy system or application sunsets.  

  • Training 
    If the organization migrates legacy data to a new platform, users and stakeholders must be trained on how to use the new system. 

On top of creating a medical data management policy, there are a few best practices you can follow to make your archiving project go smoothly:

Engage stakeholders early and often.

This includes technical staff, users from various departments, and legal and compliance teams that will need to review the shutdown process, as well as any relevant external parties.

Perform a system backup.

Ensure you’ve completed a comprehensive backup of the legacy system or application and its data before making any significant changes.

Test data migration.

Test the process before officially shutting down the application to prevent any surprises during the migration.

Think about the big picture.

Understand the big picture of the ecosystem around the application, including its integrations, users, and data flows.

The Hospital Executive’s Guide to Managing Legacy Applications

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Providers want—and need—to share healthcare data to promote continuity of care for their patients. However, while larger organizations may have the budget and resources for an integrated Epic EMR system, smaller hospitals and physician practices often don’t. Because these organizations don’t use the same EMR, interoperability poses a serious challenge.

Therein lies the opportunity to leverage Epic’s Community Connect platform.

With Epic Community Connect, health systems and hospitals can extend the functionality of their Epic EMR to independent physician practices and other health facilities at an affordable cost. This improves interoperability and helps ensure patients have a seamless care experience.

Organizations participating in an Epic EMR conversion through Epic Community Connect also receive the help of dedicated experts in implementation, training, and application support.

However, with Epic’s Community Connect and similar programs, there are several questions both the organization hosting the Epic EMR (the Epic “Hub” site) and the organization using it (the “Spoke” site) need to answer, including what to do with the old legacy system data.

Licensing and hosting organizations alike must decide whether they will retain their data in a read-only mode on a legacy system indefinitely, convert some (almost never all) of it into the Epic EMR, or archive it into an easily accessible platform.

If you’re hosting or joining Epic Community Connect, consider the following questions when deciding what to do with legacy system data.

  1. Do we want to reduce our long-term costs and mitigate risk?
    Maintaining a legacy system can result in increased costs over time and an increased risk of data breaches or system failure.  

  2. Do we want easy access to comprehensive medical records or only mission-critical data?
    A non-ETL approach ensures accurate conversion of the entire medical record without intensive testing and validation.

  3. Do we want the ability to augment or create reports?
    A non-ETL approach replicates the entire legacy system database in a cloud-based data lake, making mirroring reports easier. 

The case for a non-ETL approach to data archiving when converting to an Epic EMR is clear. The following are several ways healthcare organizations can maximize the strategy:

  • Identify an executive sponsor. This person can spearhead the effort and provide ongoing support.
  • Involve health information management (HIM) early in the process. Data archiving should be part of the conversation before selecting an EMR.
  • Assign a provider champion. This person is a clinical user who can ensure the archived data is useful and accessible.
  • Leverage a project team. Be sure to include the executive sponsor and physician champion, a project manager, application administrators, network administrators, and HIM.
  • Involve your IT team. Identify the appropriate technical staff necessary to obtain access to the disparate systems.
  • Consider the number of archives required. Multi-facility organizations need to ascertain how many archive instances will be used.
  • Identify system contracts. Begin discovery efforts for all contracts and maintenance agreements as soon as possible.
  • Leverage economies of scale. It’s often less expensive and less risky to archive as many legacy systems as possible at the same time.
admin on tablet

CHAPTER 3

Must-Knows for Successfully Archiving Legacy Applications

Deciding that medical records and legacy applications need to be archived opens up a host of new questions that organizations must answer: How will they be archived? Who will complete the project? What will it cost, and how will the project be managed to keep costs down?

The process of answering these questions can be complicated, but the tips in this chapter can help simplify it. Use them to help you develop a smart plan for your archiving project.

Once your organization realizes that data archiving is necessary, the next step is to decide what type of archiving solution is best — a traditional extract, transfer, load (ETL) platform or a new, more modern enterprise archiving solution (EAS)? 

In this section, we’ll discuss the differences between ETL platforms and EAS and provide questions to consider so you can make informed business decisions about your data archiving strategy. 

ETL is a method of transferring limited data from a source system to a destination system using a manual-intensive process. Relevant data is extracted from source databases, transformed for ease of analysis, and loaded into a proprietary data repository.

EAS circumvents the time- and labor-intensive ETL process while ultimately yielding the same (or better) results. This is because EAS leverages innovative technology to rebuild critical reports, then loads and indexes those reports into a secure data lake. The data lake, which can hold entire legacy databases, is stored on a cloud-native platform that can integrate with any EHR, giving clinicians and administrators easy access.

An ETL platform accomplishes the overarching goal of moving away from legacy systems toward data archiving, and it may be necessary for handling newer legacy data. However, ETL does pose some challenges: It’s expensive, time-consuming, and resource intensive, requiring complex data mapping and specialized training.

With an ETL platform, organizations may also lose structured data due to human error, hardware failure, or software bugs. Finally, there’s a lack of integration between most EHRs and ETL platforms, which leads to end-user frustration.

EAS, on the other hand, offers many benefits. It provides fast, efficient, reliable, and cost-effective access to all legacy data — not just text and numeric data — and the data lake includes an exact replica of the entire legacy system database, making it easier to replicate reports and provide a seamless end-user experience.

There’s also less chance of losing data, and there’s minimal disruption to staff before, during, and after the data conversion. In addition, organizations leveraging EAS don’t have to invest significant amounts in training because the data they need is easy to access and in a familiar format.

When determining whether ETL or EAS is the better option, consider these questions: 

  1. What legacy systems require data archiving?

    Try to prioritize data archiving efforts based on the urgency of archiving certain legacy systems, the costs of upcoming fees for software or maintenance, and the cybersecurity risks posed by each legacy system.  

  2. What are each legacy system’s specifications?

    Document the system name, database type and size, number of patients or episodes in the system, release-of-information reporting needs, and clinical reporting requirements.  

  3. How will the organization use the legacy data?

    If your legacy data is being used for active patient care or billing efforts, you may need to use an ETL platform to map and import it into the new system. However, when maintaining the legacy data solely for legal or compliance reasons, EAS is the better option.

Ultimately, an EAS archiving solution helps organizations:

  • Alleviate risk by moving sensitive data from vulnerable, aging systems to a secure, cloud-native platform.
  • Reduce costs by helping organizations scale their data archiving efforts to achieve significant cost containment
  • Improve legacy data accessibility by making it easier for clinicians, administrators, and IT teams to access all legacy data directly through their EHR or a secure web portal.

Archiving legacy health data systems is generally considered a cost-saving measure. In fact, 85% of healthcare organizations report positive financial impacts from archiving legacy data.

Let’s look at the financial benefits of data archiving and several ways you can ensure you’re saving the maximum amount when undertaking an archiving project.

When archiving a healthcare data platform, organizations that partner with the right vendor typically derive savings by reducing:

  • Licensing costs

  • Maintenance costs

  • Hardware costs

  • Productivity losses

  • Care-related costs

  • Security breaches

When you don’t choose the vendor and solution that gets the job done right, archiving projects can incur extraneous costs associated with delays or hidden fees.

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of healthcare organizations report positive financial impacts from archiving legacy data.

There are four big warning signs you could be overpaying for an archiving solution:

  1. End users are dissatisfied because they can’t access important information in a timely manner.

  2. The costs of data archiving continuously increase year over year without any additional systems added.

  3. You haven’t achieved a return on your investment.

  4. Your data archiving solution can’t accommodate strategic goals for the future.

Fortunately, there are ways to avoid overpaying for data archiving.

Long before you officially start exploring archiving solutions, identify the specific legacy systems you want to archive. Then, prioritize archiving for those systems based on level of importance, cybersecurity concerns, ongoing maintenance costs, and other factors. Also evaluate your organization’s data retention policies and audit what data you access, how often, and which data is most important to the organization. Remove all data that you don’t need to archive.

Assemble a small team of SMEs who can assist with medical data extraction as well as with validating data in the new platform to ensure it’s accurate and easy for end users to read.

Data archiving solutions offer a variety of features that your organization may or may not need depending on your strategic goals. For example, you may not need retention policy functionality or integration between the legacy system and new EHR.

As you make your list of mandatory features, be sure to think about the future. What may not be a “must-have” feature today could easily become one in the months ahead.

Not all costs associated with archiving a healthcare data platform may be apparent at first glance or during initial conversations with archiving solutions vendors. For example, tiered pricing models may look inexpensive; however, archiving projects often end up including more records than you originally anticipated, and this can lead to unexpected, skyrocketing prices. A better, more transparent option is a flat fee per archive with a recurring fee to access the archiving software.

Onsite servers require considerable investment in infrastructure and hardware, physical space, and a team to maintain it all. Servers may also be susceptible to data loss during disasters. Cloud storage is a much safer, more economical choice.

Bringing the right team together can make or break any project, and migrating legacy data to a new platform is no exception. Healthcare organizations need leaders and staff who can manage the entire process — from vendor engagement to project completion — on time and within budget. The time to form a skilled team for a legacy data migration is long before the archiving project begins. In fact, several members of the team should already be in place as the organization begins evaluating data archiving solutions. Even if the project isn’t something on the immediate horizon, creating the team in advance helps organizations mitigate problems and ensure successful project execution.

Executive Sponsor

Project Manager

Network Administrator

Executive Sponsor

Superuser

Clinical Subject Matter Experts

One of the most important members of the team is an executive sponsor. This individual — typically a senior management professional involved in every step of the healthcare document management project — secures funding for the project and reiterates the importance of the archived data to the C-suite. Unresolved issues are typically escalated to executive sponsors as well.

Equally important is a project manager who sets realistic timelines and expectations, coordinates between many different subject matter experts, identifies project goals, and establishes stakeholder roles and responsibilities. This individual is responsible for holding everyone accountable and keeping the entire legacy data project on schedule.

In addition, organizations need a network administrator to provide necessary network access, data extraction skills, and other technical expertise. The network administrator typically brings their technical knowledge to vendor product demonstrations and provides some of the key information vendors need to ensure accurate price quotes.

The team should also include an application administrator. They provide input regarding application configuration to ensure the vendor’s platform will meet the organization’s needs. They also review service-level agreements, evaluate the platform, ensure the vendor has a solid archiving plan, and check compliance and security measures.

Various business leads should also be involved, including a superuser who others can turn to when questions about handling legacy data arise. In addition, the team should include clinical subject matter experts. The best practice is to provide these individuals with single sign-on integration from the main EHR so they can validate workflows and evaluate the user interface.

A data archiving vendor’s team usually includes a project manager, consultants with both clinical and implementation backgrounds, technical experts to extract the data and to set up and tear down archive environments, data modelers who can migrate the data into the new system, and auditors to validate results and report exceptions.

In addition to making sure the data extraction project is successful, a strong archived records team also:

  • Aligns legacy data projects with strategic goals.

  • Answers important questions about long-term archive management.

  • Creates a plan to migrate legacy data.

  • Understands and prioritizes end-user needs.

  • Vets potential vendors to find the most cost-effective, collaborative partner.

Given today’s healthcare staffing shortages, the biggest challenge in establishing a strong team is identifying internal resources for the job. Many healthcare employees are pulled in multiple directions, especially IT staff and clinicians.

The good news is that organizations may not even need a full-time team if they leverage a non-ETL approach that requires less manpower. In an era of healthcare staff burnout, a non-ETL approach makes a data archiving project more doable by lowering the overhead burden.

business people smiling

CHAPTER 4

Choosing the Right Company for Archiving Your Legacy Applications

Now that you have a good idea of how you want to archive your legacy applications, it’s time to decide who you want to work with on the project.

Your relationship with your data archiving partner is an important one. You need to pick someone you can trust to provide you with the most advanced technologies and the greatest level of support.

This chapter will prepare you to evaluate different vendors so you can find the best fit for you.

Here’s the good news: When it comes to data archiving solutions, you’ve got options. The bad news: All these options mean you have your homework cut out for you.

While it’s nice to have your choice of data archiving partner, you’ll need to thoroughly research each one to find the best fit. The wrong choice can be costly in terms of lost productivity, compliance risk, patient safety, and more.

Generally speaking, healthcare data archiving solutions differ the most when it comes to the following categories:

  • Methodology for archiving records

  • Cost structure

  • Speed and efficiency

  • Customization

  • Compliance and security

  • User experience

  • Integration capabilities

You already know the top priorities at your organization and which categories matter most to you. Thoroughly vetting each data archiving partner according to those priorities can help you avoid wasted time or resources.

Use the list of 12 considerations below as a starting point for evaluating vendors. Additional queries relevant to your organization’s unique needs will likely arise, but these 12 points can help you begin narrowing down the options.

  1. The methodology used for archiving records

    While some data archiving solutions use ETL to migrate a portion of legacy data into new systems, others use a “lift and shift” approach to maintain all data from legacy systems.  

  2. How archived records are stored 

    Some vendors store archived records in silos, while others store them in one central, easily accessed location.

  3. The speed and efficiency of the data archiving solution

    ETL solutions can be slower because they involve data conversion and validation. Non-ETL solutions are faster because they’re able to rapidly archive large volumes of legacy data.  

  4.  The cost structure for archiving records 

    Some vendors may have hidden costs that make things more expensive for organizations with more patient records to archive or larger legacy systems. Others offer a more straightforward pricing model. 

  5. How the vendor ensures compliance and security 

    Some vendors stay abreast of new and emerging regulatory requirements while others lag behind. Ask the vendor to articulate specifically what it does to promote HIPAA compliance and cybersecurity 

  6. How well the data archiving solution integrates with existing systems 

    At a minimum, you’ll want legacy data deeply integrated with your upcoming EMR and admission, discharge, transfer feed. Be sure to also inquire whether the vendor supports the FHIR communication standard. 

  7. Whether the solution can be customized 

    Some data archiving solutions may offer more options for customization or be nimbler than others when it comes to implementing enhancements.  

  8. The ease of accessing, using, and even purging archived data  

    Ask potential vendors about each of the data representation and manipulation capabilities your users may need.  

  9. The level of support provided 

    Services are equally as important as software to the success of your data archiving project. Be sure to ask about ongoing support and the frequency of updates. 

  10. How data integrity is maintained  

    It’s important to minimize the likelihood that legacy data will be corrupted or lost during the application retirement process. 

  11. The user training provided 

    Ideally, the healthcare data archiving solution requires minimal user training. If training is necessary, how does the vendor provide ongoing assistance?  

  12. The future costs you can anticipate

    Ensure prospective vendors document their current and future rates in writing. 

Once you’ve set your priorities and narrowed down your list of vendors, it’s time to start asking some hard questions. Healthcare data storage is nuanced, and doing your homework ensures maximum return on investment (ROI) from any solution you invest in.

Here are 11 must-ask questions during meetings with potential data archiving partners:

The “sticker price” isn’t always meaningful in the context of the big picture. It’s critical to look at the long-term financial picture, which includes both the initial costs of data migration and ongoing costs related to future migrations, user training, and more.

Be sure to also investigate hidden fees that may be added after you initially sign with a vendor, and question vague line items buried in a contract.

Can users easily access information with as few clicks as possible? Consider both clinical data systems (e.g., the EHR) and non-clinical data systems (e.g., the enterprise resource planning system).

For example, can the solution handle multiple file types, including images? Can it integrate data from any legacy application or only certain ones?

One of many reasons to implement a healthcare data storage solution is to reduce cybersecurity risks—not introduce new ones. Inquire about the people and processes safeguarding your data and how the vendor supports compliance and auditing. 

This question demonstrates the vendor’s level of accountability and commitment to its customers’ best interests.

Web-based solutions provide secure access from anywhere, thus reducing the risk of data breaches while also improving the users’ experience and efficiency.

Training should be clear and concise, and the solution should be highly intuitive so users can access information when, where, and how they need it.

This usually depends on the specific approach the vendor takes. Solutions using ETL can be slower because they involve data conversion and validation, while non-ETL solutions are much faster. 

For example, what data validation standards does the vendor use to ensure retention requirements are met? If a vendor can’t articulate this clearly, it could mean their validation standards are lackluster.

Case studies—and the ROI or other metrics cited in them—can be helpful for comparing options and understanding what customers typically experience when working with a vendor.

It’s a good idea to speak with individuals who have first-hand experience with the solution, ideally those in similar organizations to yours. You’ll learn things the vendor might not tell you (both good and bad) and get a sense of how their experience with the vendor evolved over time.

A Streamlined Way to Handle Legacy Applications  

The question of how to handle your legacy applications is a complex and nuanced one. It requires a detailed understanding of the data your organization owns and a willingness to embark on lengthy archiving projects. It’s no wonder that many healthcare executives put the problem off, letting legacy data sit unused in outdated systems.  

But putting things off will only make the issue worse. The solution is to tackle your legacy data head-on, preferably with a modernized solution, a streamlined process, and a partner you can trust.  

Olah meets all three of these criteria. With 20 years of archiving experience, we expertly take the complexities out of legacy system archiving by leveraging our enterprise archiving solution (EAS)—an approach that’s faster and more effective than ETL, and that stores all your data in a cloud-based data lake where users can access it right from their EHR.  

In many cases, archiving legacy data can be a time-consuming and convoluted project. Olah mitigates these issues, providing you with an efficient, straightforward approach for handling your legacy applications.  

Want to learn more about Olah’s simple, fast, and complete solution for archiving medical records? Get a demo today. 

The Hospital Executive’s Guide to Managing Legacy Applications

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