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Best practices for data migration in healthcare


A healthcare organization’s data is complex, high-volume and in need of strong security protocols to comply with HIPAA. Managing healthcare data can be an incredibly difficult process without the right best practices. In this guide, we’ll tell you how to effectively migrate healthcare data.

A healthcare professional working with data.
Image: Blue Planet Studio/Adobe Stock

Data is the world’s most valuable resource, and healthcare produces some of the most valuable data. The medical sector generates and stores massive amounts of highly sensitive information, meaning it must take its data operations seriously. Healthcare data migration is one of the trickiest of these data operations to perform securely and effectively.

SEE: Data migration testing checklist: Through pre- and post-migration (TechRepublic Premium)

As trends like telehealth and digitization continue to grow in the healthcare industry, so too will these already enormous data volumes. That growth will mean many healthcare organizations will have to migrate their data at some point, which is a process that requires careful planning.

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What is healthcare data migration?

Healthcare data migration is the process of moving medical information from one location to another. With 96% of U.S. hospitals using electronic health records, that often means moving patient records to a new EHR platform. Alternatively, some medical organizations may migrate data from one hospital to a new physical location.

SEE: Health data governance and the case for regulation (TechRepublic)

Healthcare data migration can refer to non-patient data as well. For example, you may want to transfer financial information or other organizational records to a new system, whether that’s moving to the cloud or transferring data centers.

Another reason for migrating healthcare data is to create more space for new data in a higher-capacity storage medium. You may also decide to transfer to a new storage platform in order to improve your cybersecurity or regulatory compliance.

Best practices for migrating healthcare data

Whatever the specifics, healthcare data migration involves copying and/or moving potentially sensitive information, which introduces considerable risk. Here are some best practices to follow to minimize these risks and ensure data migration runs smoothly.

Review any applicable standards

The first and one of the most important steps in healthcare data migration is ensuring that your data is compliant with relevant regulations. Your organization and its information may fall under multiple regulations like HIPAA, the California Consumer Privacy Act or the General Data Protection Regulation, all of which dictate how you can store certain kinds of data.

It’s important to review these standards to see if you have any data with specific legal requirements. For example, while HIPAA-covered data is exempt from CCPA, some information in HIPAA-compliant companies isn’t. If you don’t recognize this data and apply the necessary safeguards in your new system, it could create legal trouble.

Assess and organize your data before moving

Many parts of the migration process — including meeting regulatory guidelines — are much easier when you have enough visibility into your data. Before moving anything, it’s important to audit your data to determine what you have, where you store it, how you use it and any specific security needs. This information will guide your decisions about what to move and how to move it.

SEE: Data quality in healthcare: Current problems and possible solutions (TechRepublic)

You likely don’t need to migrate all your data, so you should first assess it to see what’s most mission-critical. Because 75% of Americans over 65 have multiple health conditions, you may have more senior patients than any other demographic. Consequently, it makes the most sense to focus on moving senior patient records to a more secure or scalable platform.

Alternatively, you may have multiple unnecessary copies of some information, so you should delete extraneous files before migrating to ensure a smoother transition. Reviewing and organizing your data will help reveal these needs for a more strategic migration.

Choose your migration tools and storage systems carefully

It’s also important to choose your next data storage medium carefully. Look for a solution that is scalable and reliable enough to handle larger data volumes while adhering to your organization’s security requirements. Similarly, review any data migration tools you use to make sure they’re secure and work well with the kinds of data you’re moving.

If you’re working with third parties like cloud vendors or software providers, check their history and certifications to see if they have a strong security track record. Incidents like the Red Cross data breach highlight how third parties’ weaknesses can affect your data. To avoid this kind of issue, confirm that these parties are trustworthy and follow data governance and security best practices before you grant them access to sensitive data systems.

Create backups

One simple but easy-to-miss step in healthcare data migration is backing up your most important data. Mistakes can happen during migration, even with thorough planning and reliable tools, and your information is too sensitive to assume these errors won’t happen to you. Creating secure backups of all critical data before migrating will ensure migration issues don’t lead to data loss.

SEE: Best backup software (TechRepublic)

HIPAA outlines stringent backup requirements for protected health information, which serve as excellent guidelines even for non-HIPAA-covered data. Look for a backup solution with encryption, strong authentication controls and monitoring functions. Cybercriminals can get just as much from your backups as data in your main storage medium, so it’s important to keep these secure.

Form and follow a detailed migration plan

Finally, be sure to create a formal, detailed data migration plan for when and how you’ll move your data. This plan should include the following details:

  • What data you’ll move to a new location.
  • What tools you’ll use to move it.
  • What time and date you’ll move each dataset.
  • How you’ll backup your data.
  • Who is responsible for each step of the process.
  • What to do if something goes wrong.

The more specific your plan is, the easier it will be to move your data. Be sure you can easily share this information, too, as mistakes are less likely if everyone understands their roles and knows where to turn for questions.

Migrating your data with confidence

Healthcare data migration may be intimidating, but with thorough planning, it can be a smooth, secure process. Making the most of this move starts with knowing what you need from your migration tools and systems and what can go wrong.

SEE: Data governance checklist for your organization (TechRepublic Premium)

With a detailed data migration plan, you can ensure your data operations are scalable, safe and compliant with relevant legislation. From there, your team can make healthcare data actionable for both patient and organizational outcomes.

Read next: Top 10 data migration tools (TechRepublic)



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