Five hidden—and not so hidden—costs of maintaining legacy systems in healthcare
October 10, 2023 | Legacy Medical Records

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

Having timely access to healthcare data is critical. In this blog, discover the costs of keeping it on legacy systems & why data archiving is a better solution.

Reducing unnecessary spending means organizations free up revenue to invest in important strategic initiatives, and in times of slim operating margins, healthcare leaders are doing everything they can to contain costs. While many leaders justifiably strive to reduce supply expenses and leverage automation for improved workforce efficiency, there is one way to cut costs that may go completely under the radar: Reduce the reliance on legacy systems in healthcare, particularly after an electronic medical record (EMR) data archiving project.  

In this article, we’ll identify the hidden and not so hidden costs of legacy systems and explain why EMR data archiving is a better, more economical option. Costs include: 

1. Direct maintenance. 

Legacy systems require software vendors to provide ongoing support, maintenance, and security even if users don’t access the applications regularly or at all. This can easily translate to significant dollars with minimal return on investment that could be reallocated elsewhere—particularly direct patient care-related items and services.

2. Cybersecurity attacks.

A single cybersecurity breach could easily exceed the cost of an entire data archiving project. We’re talking about an average of $10.1 million per breach, according to IBM X-Force’s latest Cost of a Data Breach Report. Why so much? Because healthcare organizations recovering from a cybersecurity attack may need to pay a ransom and/or a civil monetary penalty to settle a data breach. They may also need to devote critical information technology (IT) staff time to contain the breach, a task that can take an average of 85 days, per the IBM report. These direct and indirect costs are in addition to any EMR system downtime that could disrupt overall business continuity.

3. Operational inefficiency and lost productivity.

When organizations maintain legacy systems in healthcare, they simultaneously impose a huge drain on the efficiency of the entire health information (HI) department. Accessing multiple read-only systems to extract data requires separate logins and intimate knowledge of what data is stored in each system. While this may be difficult at best with a handful of legacy systems, imagine trying to do it with dozens. Responding to requests for information becomes frustrating and time consuming when data is stored in such disparate ways, and it can be easy to overlook information if you don’t know where it lives. EMR data archiving is a much more efficient, effective solution to ensure everyone has access to the right information at the right time. 

Maintaining legacy systems in healthcare also yields a negative impact on IT department productivity. When—not if—the legacy system fails, IT professionals are often pulled away from value-add tasks (e.g., EMR customization, data analytics tools, or critical upgrades) to create immediate workarounds that combat the failure. In many of today’s short-staffed healthcare organizations, IT projects are often backlogged, and avoidable tasks like workarounds for legacy system failure clog the queue unnecessarily. IT staff are also tasked with performing release of information because they’re the only ones who can access legacy systems, which takes them away from critical work. Data archiving helps keep IT staff focused on initiatives most essential to the organization.  

4. Non-compliance with information blocking.

A single fine for information blocking can negatively impact a healthcare organization’s finances in unexpected and potentially catastrophic ways. Imagine a healthcare organization that switched EMRs 10 years ago, converting only two years of data and continuing to maintain the rest in a read-only legacy system on antiquated hardware that experiences frequent critical failures. Although this method may have worked prior to information blocking requirements, what happens when a present-day patient requests her health information from 2013 during a time when the server hosting the legacy system fails? If the healthcare organization can’t provide the patient with timely access, it could face a significant financial penalty.  

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. To date, there have been more than 40 cases in which the Office for Civil Rights imposed financial penalties for noncompliance with information blocking. Eleven of these occurred in July 2022 alone, with penalties ranging from $3,500 to $240,000. EMR data archiving promotes timely responses to all requests for information and mitigates the risk of costly fines and penalties.

5. Patient safety.

When clinicians can’t access data that’s siloed in legacy systems, the risks to safety surge. A single surgical error, poor outcome, or delayed treatment due to incomplete patient information could result in a lawsuit, the cost of which can easily exceed the amount of money necessary to complete the entire data archiving project. Imagine a scenario in which a patient is mid-surgery, and a nurse reads in the chart that there was a drug-related complication five years ago during a previous procedure. When the organization switched EMRs, it only converted two years’ worth of data and decided to maintain the rest in a legacy system. If health information management (HIM) staff can’t access and provide the nurse with the previous operative notes immediately, there could be dire consequences. This scenario and many others are completely avoidable with EMR data archiving because everyone has easy access to information all in one place.

Don’t forget data retention requirements

Data archiving is clearly a lower-cost alternative to maintaining legacy systems in healthcare. However, it’s also important for healthcare leaders to perform application rationalization and subsequently understand data retention requirements. Certain business applications, for example, may not require data retention per federal, state, and facility-specific requirements. Data may also be duplicated elsewhere, so archiving may only need to be conducted for one system instead of two. Application rationalization is an important step toward healthcare cost containment, and it should be part of any data archiving project. 

Lean more about EMR data archiving

During a time when healthcare leaders continually search for ways to contain costs, data archiving is a logical solution and clearly financially prudent in the long run. Maintaining legacy systems in healthcare not only adds unnecessary costs, it also increases financial risk. The economics simply favor data archiving. Learn how Olah can help with its simple, fast, and complete solution for any EMR archive project at 

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Written By: Olah Healthcare Technology