Medical Data Archival Planning: What to look for in a Vendor

Technology is rapidly evolving and healthcare facilities like yours increasingly need to retire and archive legacy EMRs/EHRs and billing systems. Since the typical goal of medical data archival is to completely decommission the old system, the archive must be complete, accurate, and fulfill your records retention policiesTherefore, it is crucial to select a partner who can help you decommission your previous system while keeping financial, legal compliance, and internal stakeholder needs in mind. Make sure you evaluate your potential vendor with the following criteria compiled from years of successful archive projects. 

Experience: 

Archive vendors should have deep experience extracting data from healthcare EHR and financial systems in general. While it is helpful if they have experience with your specific application, that is not as important as their ability to extract and interpret data generally. Even if the vendor has worked with the brand of software you have, versions and modules change from one practice to another. Your vendor should approach every project with a specialized and practiced eye. An experienced vendor will have great customer references that validate their breadth of experience and careful approach. You should invest the time to speak with those referencesLastly, ensure that the vendor’s project leader is identified up front, and that they can demonstrate lengthy experience. 

Transparency and Process: 

Your archive vendor should be able to walk through—in detail—their planning, pilot testing, data extraction, validation, user acceptance and decommissioning processes. They should also demonstrate their archival product features and ease of use. Before you finalize your arrangement, you should understand how the project will proceed and feel confident it will succeed. 

Timeline Dependencies: 

Any reputable vendor begins by designing a thorough timeline. A well-designed timeline allows enough leeway for all your active claims, patient balances, open clinical encounters and lab results to be resolved in your old system. This is because archived records are not changeable once archived! Since financial records are the last to resolve, we typically advise archiving everything else first and finishing the archive with the financial records.  

Your archive vendor should also coordinate their project timeline with the go-live schedule of your new system. It is best to wait to fully archive your old data until your practices is comfortably using the new system. 

Data Access: 

Appropriate data access depends on the application.  In some cases, the application vendor sends data to the archive vendor. In other cases, the archive vendor needs to extract the data directly. Ensure that your vendor can retrieve the data regardless of its location and access limitations. This can differ for cloud-based versus server-on-premise-based software. Clarify the vendor has the tools and knowledge to handle your scenario and understands what credentials are needed. 

Tailored Appearance: 

When it comes to archives, one size does not fit all! The layout and design of the archive should reflect the needs of those accessing the archive. It should prioritize the most important info, while allowing easy navigation to the correct patient and the desired portion of the record. Viewers should be able to easily extract, email, and import selected portions of the chart for medical records purposes, whether it is to fulfill patient requests, complete insurance audits, or meet attorney requirements. 

Hosting: 

Since your historical data contains significant PHI, it needs to be organized in a safe, secure and HIPAA-compliant space. Generally, there are two hosting options available: self-hosted and commercially hosted. Your practice either maintain the archive within your own network, or you can opt for a cloud solution in which you can access the records via a web portal. Your vendor should offer both options and help you decide which one is right for you. The choice will depend on which individuals need to access the data and how frequently, among other considerations. 

Critical Features: 

You likely certain features you know you need. However, these are two commonly overlooked but important features to keep in mind:

  • Purging – The initial Archive will be created with all the records required by your retention policy. But as time passes, the oldest records should be able to be purged per that policy. Ensure that the selected archive vendor supports that purging process. 
  • User Access Control and Logging  HIPAA applies to archives too! If your data includes subsets that are highly sensitive, then the archive should be able to limit access,  just like your old system did. In addition, your archive vendor should provide the ability to log access down to the document level, with user time/date stamps.  Archive administrators should be able to easily audit and review those logs. 

Costs: 

Archiving should be a fraction of the cost of retaining the legacy system. Your vendor should be able to give you a clear quote that incorporates all the costs, including hosting fees and maintenance. In some cases, you may also need to budget for a fee to your legacy vendor if the data can only be provided by them. 

Special Cost Hint for Retiring Doctors: 

If you are retiring/winding down a physician practice, you may need to keep the records for up to 20 years, especially if the records include minor patients. To mitigate costs, try to strike a pre-pay deal so that expenses can go back to your company (while it exists pre-retirement) and not be posttax in the years to come. 

The Final Word: 

Overall, outsourcing data archival when decommissioning an EMR/EHR and/or billing system is a great way to realize cost savings and the convenience of working with a partner who has experience archiving data from your system. When you follow these guidelines as a reference when selecting your vendor, you maximize the benefits of your historical data, mitigate costs, and best serve internal stakeholders. 

Are you starting an medical data archive project?

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