In the fast-paced world of healthcare, data archiving is often underestimated and misunderstood, leading to costly mistakes and challenges for hospitals and health systems.
Imagine this common scenario: You’ve chosen an archiving vendor based on the lowest price and quickest timeline. However, as your project approaches the go-live date and legacy system decommissioning, you discover missing data and images in the archive. This setback adds an extra 90 days to your timeline, forcing you to keep legacy systems running, incurring additional costs, and diverting resources to address emerging problems. While archiving may seem straightforward on the surface, numerous unplanned complexities can arise during the project.
For a large number of hospitals and health systems, archiving solutions remain in high demand. Unfortunately, some of these organizations rush into archiving decisions under budgetary constraints and tight timelines, only to face unexpected complexities that extend project timelines and inflate costs. When decisions are made hastily, misconceptions persist, or short-term strategies prevail, buyer’s remorse begins to set in.
While cost-cutting is essential, especially as equipment costs continue to rise along with the fierce competition for talent following the COVID-19 fallout, focusing solely on short-term resource management can prove costly in the long run – especially if it will cost both time and money in the end. However, there are ways to avoid that.
When Does a Data Archiving Journey Begin?
From the moment a new electronic health record (EHR) system is selected the data archiving journey begins. Insight gleaned from years of data archiving experience and dozens of client stories suggests a data archiving journey that breaks down into several decisions, each of which has opportunities to work seamlessly and improve the necessary data access or not work at all. The financial demands on the wrong choices are tangible.
On the surface, the archiving process involves three main steps: data extraction, data conversion and data migration. But what happens in between is complex and unique to the current and future needs of the specific health system. Some hospitals and health systems mistakenly assume that transferring data is as simple as relocating physical files, leading to unforeseen challenges. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ when it comes to archiving, but there are a number of best practices to model and pitfalls to avoid.
Establish Long-Term Goals, Prioritize Managing Legacy System Data
Start the archiving project along with the EHR transition by setting definite goals and a distinct plan with a tentative go-live date. This can include discontinuing legacy applications, creating a unified archive for all patient data, seamlessly integrating it with the new EHR, ensuring comprehensive record access for clinicians, meeting regulatory storage requirements, expediting medical information requests, and preparing for future data needs and regulations.
Set a Budget That Matches the Goals
The budget and goals should account for what each stakeholder needs to do with the data today and in the future. For example, non-discrete data archiving – involving file types such as PDFs and images – is less expensive but has critical limitations. By comparison, discrete data helps with use cases across teams and has the flexibility to allow for future demands. It can ensure success with things like HIM requests and complete compliance with Information Blocking. The wrong archival procedure to meet these needs often leads organizations to revamp and revise later. Beware of automated archiving methods that extract data in one large PDF. These are indeed fast and cheap but do not make crucial information either searchable or useable.
Create an Archiving Project Team
Effective planning involves assembling a diverse team of stakeholders for an archiving project, drawing from various departments including clinicians, IT, HIM, legal, finance, and external resources if needed. Subject matter experts play a crucial role in understanding workflow intricacies and aiding in data validation. It’s essential to engage these experts early in the process, before they transition to new systems. This interdisciplinary team structure ensures a comprehensive approach to project oversight, data entry, and database management. However, it also requires careful consideration of the team’s existing commitments and potential external resource requirements, all of which should be factored into the budgeting process to prevent undue disruptions to the project or workflow.
No Substitution for Experience and Methodology When Choosing an Archiving Partner
The variety of available archiving vendors keeps growing, many focused on making the process cheap, quick and easy. That may be appropriate in some cases, but archiving is complicated and nuanced. Frequent concerns arise around data quality, accessibility and lack of useability if checks and balances with multiple data validations are ignored, and if there are no contingency plans to manage potential mistakes, hold-ups and surprises. Each challenge can delay the go-live date, which means keeping legacy systems running longer.
An experienced archiving partner who has handled numerous projects can help the client avoid errors, wasted time, lost confidence, extra tests, bad ROI reports and legal issues. A worthy partner with intellectual property acquired and honed over years will anticipate issues with the extraction and migration of specific systems and different types of clinical, financial and enterprise resource planning data. The right partner can also provide counsel to help health systems manage projects at scale and support an enterprise-wide archiving strategy.
Sound expensive? Consider the cost faced by facilities when they need to hire a new vendor to fix mistakes or start from scratch, both of which result in additional expenditure of time and money. Even worse, mistakes and misunderstandings can lead to issues with data quality and accessibility. Valued archiving partners can help ward off these issues by offering the resources and project management to handle it all.
Proper Data Extraction: The Linchpin to Successful Archiving
The right archiving partner also knows what to look for, where to look for it and how to extract it when it comes to choosing the data to archive. Once required data is selected, proper data extraction becomes the linchpin to successful archiving. Some hospital systems may be tempted to handle this process internally – whether due to cost or fear of data loss. However, most health systems are less adept at the process than a qualified outside service. The right service can help avoid the cost and delays of inefficient DIY extraction and will have extraction experience with a wide range of EHR brands, both major market holders and proprietary ones; multiple databases; different healthcare areas; and different varieties of data that can be trapped in your EHR, such as faxes, scans, or media attachments.
For hospital and health system executives entrusted with safeguarding one of their organization’s most valuable assets, an extensive assessment of the long-term ramifications and advantages of data archiving is paramount. While it’s acknowledged that most data managers do not engage in archiving transformations on a daily basis, those who carefully weigh each decision and rely on the expert guidance of an experienced archiving partner can gain confidence in the process and the potential return on investment. Collaboration and the alignment of collective objectives among stakeholders will result in optimized patient care while meeting compliance, legal and research needs – now and in the future.
About Dr. Shelly Disser
Dr. Shelly Disser is Vice President of Innovation and Collaboration at MediQuant, the leading innovator and provider of enterprise-active archiving solutions to hospitals and health systems.