EMR Data Archiving – The Problem with Continuing to use Old EMRs

Some doctors/clinics try to continue using their EMR on an older computer as a way of dealing with the issue of archiving their medical records.  However, while this solution has the advantage of a familiar look and feel, it has many issues that may not be obvious to a retiring doctor.  The strategy, while simple at a surface level comes with significant costs (licensing), data state control (i.e. keeping records read only), selective purging of patient records and data management beyond the practitioner’s death.

The first issue are the costs associated with continuing to use an existing EMR, especially if it is hosted at an ASP.  This would include things like EMR software licenses and maintaining hardware/operating systems.  There are also add-ons required for many EMRs, such as Microsoft Office, etc.  As well, you now have to keep that system running for anywhere from 15 to 32 years…  Can you guarantee that your system will be operating after a few years?  Keeping in mind that if it fails, your EMR vendor may not be able to get that version up and running again – and then you will have to pay for an upgrade, etc. – assuming that the vendor is even still in business.

The second issue is that of keeping the records in a Read-Only state.  This is a way of keeping the records ‘frozen in time’.  That way there is no reason to question whether the medical record is in the same state it was when the physician retired.  This may be important in any legal issues that arise.  The problem here is that most EMRs are not designed to be run in a Read-Only fashion and cannot function with that restriction.

The third issue is that of purging of data.  Most EMRs are designed to not ‘lose’ any data.  They do not allow a patient to be truly deleted from the system.  They are simply flagged so that they do not show in the GUI.  This violates the privacy laws that state that a record must be destroyed in such a way as to make later reconstruction not reasonable possible.

The fourth issue is that of ease of use and the continued liability of the doctor’s estate after his/her death.  Since a doctor’s spouse and/or children might then be responsible for the medical records, will they know how to navigate the EMR software well enough to print out a patient record if it is requested?   Most of these programs are fairly complex and are meant for an experienced user.

The final issue is that very few, if any, EMRs have the ability to select patients based on the criteria of expired retention periods, making selection and purging of patient data difficult, if not impossible.

So, in most cases, continuing to use an older EMR as an archiving solution is not ideal.

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