Data Migration

Maintaining data integrity during EHR migration

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Nearly three years ago, PwC’s Health Research Institute dubbed 2016 the year of “merger mania” in healthcare. With so many shifts occurring across the industry, many health systems have looked to mergers and acquisitions to help them survive – and thrive – in a value-based care world.1 The trend continues to this day. In fact, earlier this year, PwC reported the announcement of more than 250 healthcare M&A deals in the second quarter of 2018 alone.2

But while scaling up in this manner has multiple advantages for health systems, it is not without challenges. One of the biggest is maintaining data integrity as organizations migrate data into a common electronic health record (EHR) platform.

There are many reasons why a given healthcare organization may need to migrate patient data from one EHR system to another – to provide a single system for multiple institutions in an M&A situation, to lower the costs involved with maintaining an outdated legacy system or to eliminate dangerous data siloes that interfere with clinical decision-making, just to start. But Rod Piechowski, Senior Director of Health Information Systems at HIMSS, said that healthcare organizations should not downplay the data integrity risks involved with such a move.

“One of the biggest challenges, which is also one of the most important elements of a successful migration, is developing a plan that properly addresses the scope of data that needs to be migrated, the order in which it should be done, and the amount of time that a quality migration can take,” he said.

The risks of poor planning

Putting the right plan in place requires a lot of forward thinking, as well as cooperation among different stakeholders across the enterprise, said Michelle Holmes, Chief Operation Officer at ECG Management Consultants. Too often, she maintained, those two factors are lacking in the pre-planning stages of the process – and this can significantly increase the risk of data integrity issues later.

“You can’t just assume that there’s going to be a one-to-one relationship between data types and fields and that everything will flow over accurately. You need to understand the implications of a mapping error can be quite significant, to both providers and patients,” she explained. This is why, she said, you can’t rely just on electronic migration processes. There needs to be a manual component, for example, clinical abstraction services, as well.

When critical information is lost or corrupted, it can affect the quality of patient care. Providers won’t have access to the data they need to guarantee patient safety. “You don’t want to lose or incorrectly map drug allergy information, for example. Patient safety issues open up a whole new world of liability,” said Piechowski.

But data integrity affects more than just patient safety, he cautioned. “If you’re migrating more than just clinical data, like scheduling and billing, you run the risk of business interruptions, revenue issues, and, in the long-term, problems with your reputation,” he said.

Taken together, these factors can negatively impact provider trust, patient satisfaction and the strength of the patient-provider relationship.

Strategies for success

Piechowski said that a strong data migration strategy starts with bringing the right people to the table to map out a workable plan of action. “When building a migration team, include a wide variety of people from many different areas within the organization, with a variety of skills,” he said. “You’ll need clinicians as well as technologists, revenue specialists and others.”

And even with the strongest migration strategy, it can be important to leverage external organizations, such as manual abstraction services to ensure the consistency and accuracy of clinical information that is being migrated across the system.

He argued that abstraction plays an important role as the migration team shapes your data migration plan, helping to build and refine the rules that will be used to preserve historical clinical data.

“Abstraction can really benefit a larger migration, especially if there are elements that must be converted that require clinical insight and decision-making in order to do a successful mapping, especially where patient safety is concerned,” he said.

Holmes added that organizations should not underestimate the need for quality assurance testing. “You need to put the time and resources in place to test, test and retest before every partial and full migration,” she said. “It’s also important to make sure you have ongoing quality assurance processes and manual abstraction processes to fill in for any information that may not have been migrated or may have been incorrectly migrated.” This is where an organization like a clinical abstraction service can be especially important to your migration strategy.

As with so many information technology initiatives, it’s better to have the right scaffolding in place from the start to ensure data integrity – and, ultimately, patient safety and satisfaction.

“Consider the impact of incorrect or incomplete information on future decision-making in a clinical encounter. The same is true of business-related data if it is being moved,” said Piechowski. “It’s better to do it correctly than to do it fast.”