Healthcare applications accumulate a very large amount of data on a daily basis. As regulations change and meaningful use advances, older applications are replaced, but the data is still required for compliance and reporting purposes. Frequently these older applications cannot be updated, run on outdated hardware, fail security audits, etc., and this poses quite the challenge for modern healthcare IT professionals. Many healthcare IT departments are turning to vendor neutral healthcare data archiving to address infrastructure costs, storage bloat, compliance needs, and security concerns.
What is data archiving?
Data archiving is not the same as a data backup. Backups are intended to restore an existing system in a disaster recovery or business continuity scenario. Inherently they assume the system in question still exists, but has experienced some kind of fault, failure, or outage, and thus needs to be restored to working order. Archiving, in contrast, assumes that the system in question no longer exists and doesn’t need to. Instead, a healthcare data archive houses the underlying information from the particular system or systems in a unified, centralized, and easy to use archiving application without relying on the original system’s existence.
What are the benefits of data archiving?
There are many data archiving benefits for the modern healthcare organization. Among other reasons, at a base level healthcare IT organizations can leverage vendor neutral archiving to decrease on-premise footprint, decrease support costs, resolve security exceptions all while preserving important data for compliance and reporting purposes. Also, the costs of Release of Information activities can be greatly reduced in general, particularly when combined with archive level enterprise wide patient deduplication. At a more advanced level, an enterprise wide vendor neutral archive, particularly when combined with archiving current production systems in real time, can also be used to enable business intelligence, machine learning, data mining, third tier offsite true disaster recovery, consolidated and simplified release of information, and to support data migrations to new systems where not all required data is natively consumed via the HL7 or FIHR protocols.
What are data archiving best practices?
Healthcare archiving projects do require a bit of legwork by the implementing IT department, so following data archiving best practices is critical. Obviously, choosing the right vendor that can actually understand the application/platform/system in question, and correctly extract and correlate the underlying data model are key points. Engaging the appropriate stakeholders and being clear on what data needs to be retained can also play a large role in project scope, timing, and cost.
Also, to achieve the full benefits of a vendor neutral healthcare data archive, it should ideally have the following attributes.
Accessible but granular
that everyone who needs to get to it can.
that people can only get to the data they need and nothing else, per HIPAA and common practice.
Performance within tolerance
Waiting minutes to retrieve a particular piece of data from an archive is clearly unacceptable.
Millisecond response time, while theoretically doable for most vendors, probably involves a cost structure that does not pay off.
A few seconds is the sweet spot, in terms of project scope and price/performance in typical use.
Having one place to go to to retrieve all patient records from legacy and or decommissioned systems greatly reduces the cost of release of information to third parties.
Enterprise wide patient deduplication and consolidated search
The same patient is typically represented as individual records in many individual legacy systems. It can be challenging to combine these into consolidating reporting for, for example, compliance. A useful and relevant enterprise view of a single real world patient is very important as the archive grows and absorbs different legacy systems.
What types of data archiving solutions are available?
Multiple types of data archiving solutions are available on the market. Differences include whether or not data from multiple systems can be archived consistently together or if they are handled separately, whether or not it’s an on-premises solution or some sort of SAAS or cloud hosting, if the client software is web based or a native application, and how well patient records from multiple disparate systems are combined. Healthcare IT organizations should carefully choose a vendor and solution that meets their needs in these regards. For Two Point’s take on this see *insert link here*.
What are the requirements for data archiving?
At a fundamental level, the minimum requirement to archive data is having a system whose data is still required for compliance or other purposes but that is no longer used as an application in production. An idea of what data still needs to be retained, in what form, and what the typical access or usage patterns are is very helpful. Additionally, having an idea of how and where to set up a centralized archive is important, for example on premises vs SAAS. It is also important to understand what the organization’s retention requirements are, in terms of time range for different types or domains of data.
What are the costs associated with data archiving?
There are, of course, costs associated with data archiving, and it’s important to consider them when embarking on an archiving project. They can be broken down into three categories: one time costs, per project costs, and ongoing costs.
One time costs include setting up an environment to host and archive and other things related to onboarding an archiving vendor for the first time.
Per project costs are things like granting access to particular applications to be archived, devoting a bit of time of the people familiar with the application in question in terms of usage patterns, what data does or does not need to be archived, how you are using a particular application, and what the retention requirements are. These costs are probably the most variable, given that they relate to the actual application being archived. For example, an ancient application from several decades ago probably costs more to archive than a relatively modern system whose usage was just deprecated.
Ongoing costs typically involve maintenance and support of the archive once built, whether on premises or in the cloud. Although given the static nature of most archives, in contrast to applications in production use, and the consolidated nature of a proper archive in terms of a single archiving application, these costs should be low. Other ongoing costs include the cost of storage or other infrastructure on which the archive resides. These costs should also be low given the usage patterns, particularly in a cloud or SAAS archive.
How often should you archive data?
At its most basic level, data archiving should be done when an application is no longer in active production use and is being maintained purely for compliance and reporting purposes, and the costs of continuing to support it (both direct costs in terms of support fees and indirect in terms of, for example, maintaining an end of life platform) exceed the cost of archiving. Note that the greatest direct return on investment for archiving data can be achieved by archiving a particular system before support contracts for it are renewed; ideally while the process to replace or migrate the system in question is still in progress. More and more, healthcare organizations are realizing that archiving data in advance for systems still in production use enables the more advanced benefits of an archive, such as large scale data analysis, machine learning, centralized release of information, as well as making the inevitable next application migration much more worry free and seamless.
What are the tools used in data archiving?
Various components are required for the successful completion of a healthcare data archiving strategy. Obviously an environment to host an archive is needed. This would include a backend database application (usually some form of SQL), some sort of large scale storage to house documents and other unstructured data, an application layer to serve clients (such as an https server application), a client application (such as a web browser), and a pdf viewer to view and print the generated reports. These may be provided by the healthcare organization itself, in the case of on premise hosting, or some of these may be provided by the archiving vendor in the case of a cloud or SAAS solution. These tools should be uniform across all individual archived applications to achieve maximum efficiency and uniformity. Other technologies may be in use on a per project basis that involve providing the capability to extract data from a particular application, to transform it to the standardized data model of the archive, or to convert proprietary image and document formats to industry standard ones, etc. These would typically be provided by the vendor and be based on that vendor’s methodology. For example, Two Point uses exclusively in-house purpose-built tools for ETL (extract, transform, and load) purposes, which enhances our ability to deliver archives on time and on budget. The most important tool is the experience and knowledge of the archiving vendor in all cases, but particularly based on the age of the platform or technology in use in the system to be archived. Two Point, for example, has 30 years experience extracting and understanding data from proprietary applications, and a breadth of experience across various modern and archaic technologies, and can frequently accomplish projects that other vendors find challenging for this reason.
Data archiving in healthcare is a complex topic, but offers many benefits for the organization that embraces it as standard practice. Key to navigating the data archiving process is choosing a vendor with the right mix of core capability, experience, relevant technology to not only successfully complete individual archiving projects with good customer service and responsiveness but also to help you as a healthcare IT organization do your part in ensuring the initiatives success in terms of quality, timeliness, and cost. Two Point, with 30 years of experience–and literally thousands of satisfied customers–is well positioned to do just that. We can be reached at email@example.com or at 800-276-4689.