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Data Migration Supports Future-Proof Health IT Infrastructure

Cloud data migration is a key step, pushing health IT infrastructure systems forward with advancements.

data migration

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- Migrating data from one health IT systems to another is a taxing but necessary part of health IT infrastructure. Whether organizations are moving on from legacy systems or changing how they store and retrieve data, migration is a delicate process that takes time and expertise.

One of the most challenging migrations healthcare organizations are experiencing today is the migration of data from on-premises solutions to cloud solutions. This includes data storage as well as hosted tools such as EHRs, scheduling tools, and other applications clinicians use frequently.

According to a HIMSS survey, cloud is already becoming the preferred deployment option for healthcare applications. Organizations have tripled their reliance on cloud computing since 2014, expanding their infrastructure to encompass several critical initiatives, including backup and disaster recovery, consumer engagement, and revenue cycle management.

“Cloud solutions are an extension of a healthcare organization’s communications infrastructure and connecting to the cloud is as mission critical as the platform itself,” said survey analysts. “Connectivity should easily ‘scale up,’ as more applications are moved to the cloud or more compute cycles are accessed for analytics.”

Legacy systems can also cause problems for organizations which is why migration is a critical step IT executives should keep in mind.

READ MORE: Healthcare Data Storage Options: On-Premise, Cloud and Hybrid Data Storage

“Organizations spend a lot of effort continually trying to re-engineer legacy systems that are broken,” Health2047 Managing Director of Technology Charles Aunger told HITInfrastrucutre.com.

A lot of the time, “fixing” legacy solutions results in Band-Aid repairs and workarounds that don’t fully address the problem. One of the biggest challenges organizations face is identifying legacy systems that are vulnerable and taking the steps to replace those systems before they cause damage.

Replacing these systems requires data migration from the dated legacy systems to the new system.

To begin migration, organizations should first examine their current infrastructure and understand how to build on top of that infrastructure using the cloud. Understanding what to update first will help organizations create a roadmap so transitions from old to new infrastructure will be smooth.

“If you peel back the covers, healthcare infrastructure is an archaic system made up of basic systems coming together and forming this fragile healthcare infrastructure backend,” Clairvoyant CEO Chandra Ambadipudi told HITInfrastructure.com. “If you look at data system infrastructure it is considered dated compared to where other industries have moved on to.”

READ MORE: Understanding HIPAA-Compliant Cloud Options for Health IT

Before attempting a migration, organizations first need to understand how much time and what kinds of resources the migration will take, especially when migrating data to the cloud.

“Initially, organizations underestimated how hard it would be to deploy real IT infrastructure in the cloud,” said ClearSky Data CEO Ellen Rubin. “They didn’t think about data migration, latency, or rebuilding applications for the cloud. These are the things that organizations have been learning the hard way over the past several years.”

The cloud is much different than what IT administrators are used to deploying in their legacy infrastructure environments. Organizations should start with a strong understanding of the skills and processes involved before and after the migration occurs, including management and maintenance requirements.

“Organizations are now much smarter because they have tried different cloud tactics and solutions to varying degrees of success,” Rubin explained. “They realize that managing the cloud is managing infrastructure, too, even though the data is not in an organization’s data center and they don’t have to scale or handle data on-premise.”

When planning cloud migration, organizations should consult a vendor to make sure the migration is done correctly the first time. Migration that is done incorrectly can be financially devastating to an organization and take a long time to correct.

READ MORE: Why Application Programming Interfaces Are Key for Healthcare

“When data is discovered to be wrong at the end of the process during acceptance testing, organizations are months away from fixing it simply because of the work required to move the data,” said Informatica Chief Healthcare Strategist Richard Cramer. “Then there’s the problem of figuring out what went wrong.”

Most major cloud service vendors have a data migration service for customers migrating to their cloud to help organizations keep costs down and reduce the need to invest in tools that will not be used continuously.

Vendor migration services typically simplify certain aspects of the migration to take the strain off IT staff and eliminate the need for cloud specialists managing every aspect of the migration. The services automate certain parts of the migration process such as testing and scheduling.

Virtualizing health IT systems can also help organization consolidate health IT systems to develop an IT infrastructure ecosystem that can be moved more easily.

Virtualized environments are generally easier to migrate so if an organization predicts it’s likely they will migrate large amounts of data again in the future, a virtualized environment might be better to implement sooner rather than later.

Cloud migration is complex, but necessary for organizations with plans to embrace advanced health IT tools within the next several years. Without an advanced infrastructure to support these tools, organizations won’t be able to take advantage of new applications to help treat patients. This makes data migration a critical step for modern healthcare systems.

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