How best to manage, or dump, legacy healthcare IT systems
Photo: Tony Jaros
According to a 2021 HIMSS survey, 73% of healthcare provider organizations have legacy information systems. They’re costly to maintain and a pain to keep up.
The question is, what to do about them?
Healthcare IT News spoke with Tony Jaros, CEO of Legacy Data Access, to discuss his views on legacy IT systems and inflation, how the Great Resignation is affecting in-house expertise with legacy systems and strategies for retiring legacy systems after mergers or acquisitions.
Q. That HIMSS survey says 73% of healthcare organizations still operate legacy systems, which are costly to support. You suggest we’ll see a trend around this matter because of inflation. What do you see provider organizations doing?
A. On its face, the HIMSS data is a bit puzzling. While the percentage you quote is correct, the same study reported that IT leaders cited legacy systems as their third biggest security risk. So, if they know that not retiring these systems leaves them vulnerable to data breaches, why don’t they do it?
The problem is threefold: risk, cost and hassle. Let’s tackle the cost component, given our challenging economy. Upfront fees to retire legacy systems can add up quickly for those organizations that have complex IT environments and may be looking for ways to protect cash.
One trend we’re seeing is that IT leaders are looking for more flexibility and transparency in healthcare data archiving pricing, and they are pushing archiving providers in this space for both openness and options. Only then can the archiving burden of cost be overcome.
Q. The Great Resignation has been draining high-level IT expertise. You say the impact of senior-level IT turnover is a top concern for health systems, and as provider organizations prepare to undertake IT initiatives this year, they need a plan for dealing with legacy systems that new IT leaders might not have experience with. Please elaborate.
A. Many legacy systems still running in healthcare organizations today are quite outdated. Often, only the most experienced IT employees – many of whom are retiring or moving on from healthcare – have deep knowledge of these systems.
Newer talent coming in can be hesitant to mess with existing infrastructure for fear of breaking something and losing valuable data. It’s also less likely that those who are new to a healthcare organization have experience with retiring these types of systems, resulting in just one more reason to delay the work.
Thus, the burden shifts to the archiving provider to be a calming influence not only by demonstrating experience, but more importantly, sharing their knowledge and educating healthcare IT teams.
Every retirement should be seen as an opportunity to upskill IT professionals and make them not only more comfortable in their environments, but also secure in their decisions around moving data archival projects forward. This is one component of removing the burden of risk.
Q. You have said that retiring legacy systems after a healthcare merger or acquisition can be tricky. How do provider organizations develop a plan for determining who will extract, validate, maintain and protect data from legacy systems to reduce the risk associated with healthcare M&As?
A. Acquired healthcare organizations typically migrate to the acquirer’s platforms to take advantage of licensing costs, support, functionality and, most important, commonality. Thus, system retirement will nearly always be an eventuality in a healthcare M&A.
Because the acquired entity will often be smaller, the teams are leaner. Thus, it’s incumbent on the acquirer to bring a defined strategy for data management to the table prior to any acquisition – for instance, which systems will be retained and jettisoned, a timeline for retirement/archival, which local regulations/laws will need to be complied with, and more.
In addition, the acquirer can provide human capital to augment the acquired organization’s IT knowledge base and even have pre-negotiated rates with a data archiving partner for new subsidiaries that can be paid for directly by the acquirer or as a chargeback for the acquired organization.
The more work that’s done upfront to determine how data management will be handled, the less time it will take on the back end to bring the data strategies of two or more entities together.
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Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.
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