Cleaning your Data Closet: What Data and Systems Do you Need to Keep?

Many hospitals and medical practices hang on to archaic systems for the data they contain long after they are obsolete. However, due to COVID-19, healthcare facilities across the country are scrutinizing expenses and reviewing what is essential and what is not. In the current climate, there is little wiggle room for unnecessary inefficiencies and expenses. In many cases, maintenance of old systems is a cost you can confidently eliminate, provided you have a thoughtful data migration, archival, and/or purging plan. Following are our suggested considerations for paring down your systems and data to keep only what is essential moving forward.

Take Stock: Current Systems

Do a deep dive. How many applications and servers are your locations paying for and maintaining? The reality of the new normal is that healthcare facilities will increasingly rely on digital tools to practice medicine. Before you integrate new systems, take time to create a digital strategy and consider how old and new can best work together and what you can leave behind.

Consider: Does Data Need to Migrated, Archived, or Condensed?

When you identify systems you are maintaining that won’t be needed going forward, the next step is to determine what to do with the data therein. You have the option to migrate your data to a new application via data conversion, keep the data accessible on a searchable archive, or—if you want the data for potential clinical research—condense the data with patient identifiers removed to reduce risk. Keep in mind, the date of the most recent activity for a patient is what matters (even if there is decades-old data). Also, considerations vary, depending on whether the applications house financial, HR, or clinical data.

Utilizing an Enterprise Master Patient Index (EMPI) will allow you to have a single patient identifier in a patient database that will cross-reference the patient in all other practice-wide disparate applications.  This ensures all data related to a patient is connected, and avoids duplicate records.

Know: Legal and Compliance Requirements for Records

Data storage preferences vary. Some practices are tempted to keep all PHI in perpetuity, others want to purge it as soon as permissible to reduce risk. The best approach is a thoughtful data archive strategy that falls somewhere in the middle. Choose a secure data archiving partner that understands relevant legal regulations and organizational policy, so you remain in compliance.

As mentioned in the previous section, consider why you want to keep the data. If it is for aggregated analysis, then archiving data with patient identifiers removed lowers your risk. Clinical data retention mandates are governed by federal and state law and vary from state to state. Ensure you know the regulations relevant to your practice’s data before beginning any data archive, migration, or purging project.

Success: Final Disposal

Once all data has been successfully handled, the last step is to properly dispose of any devices that may contain the old data. They should be properly cleansed of data before disposal, or use a specialist disposal company.

Takeaway:

Now is a great time to assess your data hygiene. Technology—fueled by clinical and operational data—is here to stay. Enter the new normal with a clean slate by taking stock of your systems, evaluating data migration and archival opportunities, and understanding your legal and compliance obligations and operational needs for data storage. By consolidating systems, converting data to new systems, and archiving or purging unneeded data, you position your healthcare facility to increase efficiency, save money, and reduce legal risk.