Sunsetting Applications: Medical Data Management Considerations
December 15, 2023 | Legacy Medical Records

Sunsetting Applications: Medical Data Management Considerations

Explore the many reasons healthcare organizations sunset legacy systems — and how the right medical data management can help them do it responsibly.

At some point, you’ll need to terminate one or more medical data management systems or applications. There are multiple possible reasons your organization would take this step. Maybe it’s because the software developer no longer provides security patches. Or maybe the system or application doesn’t support modern security features (e.g., multi-factor authentication, single sign-on, and role-based access), making your organization vulnerable to breaches. Perhaps it’s because the technology fails to meet updated compliance regulations, or it prevents your organization from continuing its journey toward digital transformation. It could also be because your company recently underwent a merger or acquisition, and the system or application isn’t necessary anymore.  

Whatever the reason, sunsetting — or phasing out a software program eventually becomes unavoidable. But with healthcare’s uniquely sensitive data collection and storage requirements, it’s essential to understand several crucial aspects of making the change. Let’s dive into why it’s important for organizations to make the leap in the first place and how to plan a smooth landing.

Download the White Paper: Common Myths About Archiving Legacy Healthcare  Systems

Why Do Healthcare Organizations Sunset Their Healthcare Data Systems?

The truth is that many organizations hold onto legacy systems and applications for as long as possible. Why? Perceived high costs associated with data archiving, fear of data loss and business disruptions, lack of internal knowledge about how to sunset a system or application properly, not having an organized plan in place, and many other reasons.

More than one-third of hospitals, for example, still have devices running Windows 2008 and Windows 7, both of which Microsoft hasn’t supported since January 2020. One in five health systems still run Windows XP, which hasn’t been supported since 2014. Seventy-three percent of healthcare providers use medical equipment with a legacy operating system.

Organizations that decide to sunset outdated legacy systems and applications sooner rather than later often report significant positive financial and operational benefits. Still, the process of sunsetting is nuanced and often demands that healthcare organizations address medical data management more proactively and with a focus on patient care continuity. This is especially true when sunsetting a legacy electronic medical record (EMR) system. Efficient strategies for archiving medical records become critical so providers and staff can access accurate and complete information in a timely manner.

The good news is that legacy EMR applications, financial programs, and other healthcare data systems don’t sunset overnight. Organizations usually have ample time to identify and address potential challenges to ensure medical data management and security in advance.

Steps to Consider Before Sunsetting Healthcare Data Systems

Before beginning to transition from a legacy system to more innovative programs, consider these steps: 

  1. Understand data retention requirements.

    Identify what data the organization must maintain in read-only or archived format to comply with regulations (e.g., the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act [HIPAA] or information blocking) or other compliance mandates (e.g., audits).
  2. Assess data migration needs.

    What data must the organization migrate into the new system or application?
  3. Determine what external entities rely on data stored in the legacy application.

    These entities must be aware of the change and how it may affect their work in the short and long term.
  4. Identify applications that integrate with the one that will sunset.

    Access to these additional applications will be impacted, and any new applications must ensure interoperability.
  5. Consider departments and users that the phase-out will impact.

    Notify these individuals and teams early in the process so they can begin to prepare and potentially provide input on the transition to the new system or application. 

Factors to Consider After Sunsetting Healthcare Data Systems

After completing the phase-out, consider the following:

  1. Data storage.

    Where will your data live once you’ve retired your legacy system? On-site? In the cloud? Leaders need to make the location clear up front to avoid any confusion on the part of end users.
  2. Data access.

    Who will need access to the data after the legacy system or application sunsets? Organizations must ensure proper permission settings so only authorized users can access important information.
  3. Data disposal.

    When and how will the organization dispose of data from the legacy system or application once it no longer needs it?
  4. Data ownership.

    Who will own the data that originated in the legacy system or application no longer in use? This individual or department will be responsible for managing and protecting that data.

Download the White Paper: Common Myths About Archiving Legacy Healthcare  Systems

Data Challenges That May Arise (and Why It's Crucial to Address Them)

During the sunsetting process, organizations can unfortunately run into a whole host of data challenges. Some of them include:

  • Devoting time and resources to the labor-intensive process of validating the legacy data that’s going into the new EMR or another active platform 
  • Classifying legacy data to convert into an existing platform vs. archiving medical records 
  • Not having sufficient internal expertise to manage the phase-out process effectively

It’s important to acknowledge these challenges rather than ignore them. Why? If organizations don’t handle them properly, they could face:

  • Business disruption.
    If an organization doesn’t consider all integrations and dependencies, an application sunset could disrupt critical business processes.
  • Increased cost.
    Mistakes made during the sunsetting process, particularly those that result in data loss, can lead to higher costs in the future due to increased recovery efforts, rework, or fines.
  • Loss of critical data.
    Without processes in place to ensure business continuity during the sunset process, organizations could lose data that’s critical for operations, regulatory compliance, or future analysis. 
  • Loss of reputation.
    Data breaches, downtime, or other issues stemming from a poorly managed shutdown can tarnish an organization’s reputation. 
  • Regulatory fines and legal implications.
    If legacy patient data is lost or compromised during the sunset process, an organization could face severe consequences, including heavy fines and legal action. 
  • Stakeholder dissatisfaction.
    If end users, departments, and partners aren’t engaged during the sunsetting process, dissatisfaction will increase once that system or application is shut down
    — possibly leading to slower adoption of new innovations.

Creating a Policy for Handling Data When Sunsetting Legacy Technology

Ideally, organizations can avoid these challenges through a formal medical data management policy that specifically addresses what to do when phasing out healthcare data systems or applications. At a minimum, this policy should include the following elements:

  • Audits.
    The organization will conduct a thorough, post-shutdown review to ensure that all legacy data was handled appropriately.
  • 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. How does sunsetting the legacy system go hand-in-hand with the strategic goal to improve work culture or
    enhance digital transformation? What about improving enterprise-wide security? Or allowing for more fluid care operations? 
  • Contingency plan.
    The organization will ensure there’s a plan in place to address potential rollbacks or unexpected challenges, again with the goal of promoting care continuity. 
  • Procedure.
    This includes a step-by-step process for medical data management when a legacy system or application sunsets. A formally documented process makes it easier for organizations to replicate those steps in the future when additional healthcare data systems are phased out.
  • Training.
    If the organization
    migrates legacy data to a new platform, users and stakeholders must receive training on the new system to minimize business disruption.

Tips to Ensure a Smooth Transition When Archiving Medical Records

In addition to creating a medical data management policy, consider these tips:

  • Engage stakeholders early and often.
    This includes technical staff, users from various departments, and any external parties. It also applies to legal and compliance teams that will need to review the shutdown process and ensure it adheres to all regulatory standards.
  • Perform a system backup.
    Before making any significant changes, ensure there’s a comprehensive backup of the legacy system or application and its data.
  • Test data migration.
    Don’t assume legacy data will flow smoothly between systems or applications. Test the process before pulling the lever officially and then shutting down the application.
  • Think about the big picture.
    Understand the entire ecosystem of the application, including its integrations, users, and data flows.

Sunset Responsibly With the Right Partner

Remember: Sunsetting a legacy system or application isn’t just about turning it off. It’s essential that organizations handle their data, integration, and users with care. When done right, phasing out a legacy system or application can free organizations from worries about business disruptions, inaccessible or lost data, security vulnerabilities, and more. Learn about Olah’s simple, fast, and complete solution for archiving medical records.

eBook: The Hospital Executive’sGuide to ManagingLegacy Applications

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Written By: Olah Healthcare Technology