How to Transfer Data Successfully to a New EHR Vendor

Breaking up is hard to do, but that doesn’t mean you should stay! Don’t let the challenges of implementing a data transfer hold you back from switching to a better pediatric EHR system. It might well be a challenging process, but it will be worth it over the long term. The adoption of electronic health records (EHRs) among pediatricians was already almost 80% in 2012, according to a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Many of those practices who implemented EHRs back then are now reaching the point of needing to upgrade their systems. This often means changing software vendors, gives rise to a fresh batch of roadblocks and challenges to EHR implementation. Apart from finding the right software vendor to contract with, here are some of the top challenges experienced during the process and our recommendations for best practices in these cases.

Challenge #1: No Room for Error

Transferring patient data from one system to another is a serious matter, and one in which precision is critically important. Some systems don’t have the capability to transfer data, and no two systems are exactly alike. One of the challenges of electronic health records is manipulating and massaging data to get systems to talk to each other. Implementing a systematic and complete testing approach to make sure the new system can ingest the data from the existing system is vital to ensure an error-free transfer. A common concern is the risk of data being mismatched or not transferring over properly. If one of these occurs, it could result in a scenario like listing medication on the wrong record. If the patient happens to be allergic to the medication, the error could have potentially deadly consequences.

How to avoid this: 

The industry best practice for an EHR data transfer is the “big bang” method, in which you take ALL the data and transfer it at once. Once the new system is fully tested and ready to go, the practice switches over completely on a specific, planned date. Although pediatricians often suggest making a phased transfer, in reality this adds another step that could potentially lead to errors. I recommend doing thorough testing to ensure the right mechanisms and safeguards are in place, and when your team is confident the new system can ingest the data, to do it all at once. 

Challenge #2: Getting the Timing Right

It’s challenging for any busy pediatric practice to think about taking downtime while switching over to a new system. You want your data to be as current as possible at all times, even though new data is continually being added to the old system right up until the last moment when you can successfully transfer it. When you’re using the Big Bang approach there is no phase-in or “grace” period, and you’re operating the old system until the complete switch-over, which could theoretically result in redundant information being captured.

How to avoid this:

Take the time to identify what is the best day to go live on for your practice. For example, if you don’t see patients on a Friday, it’s the perfect time for your new vendor to come in and pull your data, or to receive it from the incumbent vendor. It’s likely to take two to three days to get all your data uploaded into the new system, but you’ll minimize any electronic medical record sharing challenges as well as the impact from data loss, if no new patients are added during the switchover period. 

Challenge #3: Cost and Client Service Concerns

Occasionally, when a practice wants to change EHR vendors they are told by their incumbent vendor that it will cost thousands to retrieve their data. The cost factor also includes an upfront outlay for the preparation and transfer of your data that is common across all vendors. In addition, there’s a perceived risk that the incumbent vendor won’t want to work with the new vendor to facilitate the transfer. Many existing contracts are based on longstanding relationships, and as soon as the practice gives notice client service could be affected. The incumbent vendor might also ask questions the practice owner isn’t able to answer.

How to avoid this:

In the event it’s necessary to pull the raw data yourself, either the practice can do it (with the help of the new vendor) or you may be able to hire an independent contractor for a more reasonable sum than the incumbent vendor is asking. Your cost of retrieval can be halved by doing it this way, because data is usually charged based on the amount of time it takes to pull reports, rather than the quantity of data, so a single pull is more economical. 

Challenge #4: The Legacy System Conundrum

Legacy systems have presented a challenge to software developers from the outset, and the EHR environment is no exception. If your practice is currently contracted to a software vendor who doesn’t have the updated technical expertise or who uses an antiquated system, the capability to extract usable data is not strong. With some systems it’s possible to do this manually, but the situation could result in the practice feeling like their data is being “held hostage” and that they don’t have ownership of it. This is simply not true, and even though some vendors might charge you to pull the data, it’s a misconception that it doesn’t belong to the practice.

How to avoid this:

Ideally, you can overcome this challenge in implementing an EHR by checking the terms of your vendor agreement at the start of the relationship. If that ship has sailed, however, you can ask if there is a way to access the raw data. Most systems have a data warehouse facility from where you can run the report yourself. It can then be converted and uploaded by the new vendor you’re working with.

An effective strategy for a successful pediatric EHR data transfer can best be achieved by entrusting the technology to a team with the knowledge to execute it properly. Pediatricians wouldn’t want IT techs administering vaccines to children or conducting medical examinations, so why would they want to be involved in data transfers? A qualified vendor understands the process, is ready and able to deal with the existing vendor and can advise practices on the best way to approach the transfer.

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