Thinking About Future EHR Switching When Purchasing EHR Software

When we start purchasing our EHR, many times we don’t spend enough time thinking about what happens when we reach the end of life for the software we’re purchasing. I was particularly reminded of this when writing my post about the legacy EHR ticking time bombs. During our EHR or other healthcare IT software purchase, we don’t think about 5, 10, 15 years down the road when we might want to switch systems. What happens at the end of a system’s life is not our concern during an EHR purchase, but it should be.

A lot of people like to talk about EHR data portability. This is a very important subject when you’re looking to sunset an old system. However, if you haven’t put the right items in your EHR contract, it becomes a major issue for you to get that data out of the EHR. If you haven’t read the section on EHR contracts in my now somewhat dated EMR selection e-Book, take some time to read it over and check out your EHR contract.

When you can’t get the data out of your EHR, then you’re stuck in a situation that I described in my legacy EHR ticking time bomb post. You limp your legacy EHR system along and have issues with updates, fear the lost of the system completely, and much more. It’s just an ugly situation.

It’s nice to think that an EHR system will just work forever, but technology changes. It’s just the reality of life. I’m interested to see if the concept of an EHR vendor neutral archive will really take off. That would be one major way to combat this. However, I think many are afraid of this option because it’s tough to preserve the granular data elements in the EHR. Plus, it takes a forward thinking CIO to be able to make the investment in it. Although I’ve met some that are doing just this.

What has your organization done to prepare for the day that you’ll sunset your EHR or other healthcare IT systems? Is this a concern for you? Or are you like some CIOs who figure that it will be someone else’s problem?

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of, a network of leading Healthcare IT resources. The flagship blog, Healthcare IT Today, contains over 13,000 articles with over half of the articles written by John. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 20 million times.

John manages Healthcare IT Central, the leading career Health IT job board. He also organizes the first of its kind conference and community focused on healthcare marketing, Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference, and a healthcare IT conference,, focused on practical healthcare IT innovation. John is an advisor to multiple healthcare IT companies. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can be found on Twitter: @techguy.


  • I agree. Users often regard what they have as a steady state and are reluctant to change, regardless of the benefits.

    I’ve found that many individual users, for example, never upgrade their operating system. Instead, they wait until they buy a new machine. Microsoft doesn’t help matters with a constant stream of individual fixes as opposed to less frequent, but more comprehensive service packs. As a result, users fall into something similar to alert fatigue. Of course, that’s if they’ve set themselves up to get updates while their machine is on.

    As for legacy data, obviously, if you can’t get it out, it may as well not exist. More than once, I’ve had to use a screen scrape program to salvage vital information that otherwise would need to be rekeyed or would just be lost.

  • “if you can’t get it out, it may as well not exist.”

    There are different definitions of “getting it out”. For example, you can get the data out of many legacy systems. You just have to go down to HIM or some back office and log in and access the data. The problem is that many aren’t worried about getting the data out. However, the law requires them to retain the data for 6+ years (depending on state). So, they have to have it even if they don’t want to get the data out.

  • John,
    In addition, they have to retain it and they need access to it. Besides the Legal requirement for retention, there is the need for information in the case of Tort/Medical Liability. Most Attorney’s want the records for the Provider to be retained forever, because if a case comes up that documentation can protect the Provider.

    As to Portability, I got info from a company that discussed Archive at one point. It is a great idea and there is companies offering this, but it often is cost prohibitive. So many practice gamble, often to their own peril,that the IT department and staff can keep the EHR running indefinetely with no support. This assumes they are housing the data, this gets much more complex in Cloud/ASP environment.

    In the end, it will come down to the Contract. If a end user has in the contract protection and portability of data this would be great. Optimum would be a Export Application and/or Data provided on a Annual, Semi-Annual or Monthly basis in ASCII Delimitted format and/or with Pointer to Documents. This is more advanced and the end user would have to have a lot of leverage, which most do not posses this level of leverage.

    So as with any Specialty Vertical, this market remains with these issues, even after 20 years of case studies and recommendations by many Physician Associations.

  • Brendon,
    I’ve found both types of attorney’s. Some want you to keep the record forever to protect you. Some want the record gone as soon as possible to protect you. There’s an argument both ways. The right information can save you, but the wrong information can condemn you.

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