Change to a new EHR and transfer your existing data

Thinking about switching to a new EHR?

One of the scariest things about choosing a new EHR is worrying about the long-term investment. Implementing any new system is a huge short-term disruption and you want to have confidence that your decision will serve you well for many years.

At the same time, the rapid pace of technological change pretty much ensures that most providers will not use the same system throughout their career. It is common to eventually “outgrow” an application that you used previously. If you started building your practice with a budget system, you might become ready to pay more money for a more full service offering. Or you might just be dissatisfied with a current system and want to move to something more suited to your needs.

Either way, there is a real issue with data continuity. Changing EHR systems should never mean that you lose access to your previous patient records. This is especially true with the recent explosion of cloud-based EHRs, where your patient data is no longer stored on a local server in-house, but is instead on the Internet, fully under the control of the vendor.

The good news is that the ease of transferring medical records has been steadily improving over the last several years. The recent wave of federal regulations relating to Meaningful Use includes a set of standards that were developed primarily to enable electronic referrals and other cross-provider communication. These standards describe the specific structure and elements of a patient record, so that any two EHR applications which adhere to the standards, should be readily able to exchange patient data from one to the other. The development and adoption of these standards has made it easier than ever before to transfer patient care data from one provider to another. This technology process is also used to import all patient records from one EHR to another.

What to expect:

While tremendous progress has been made, it is still not a perfect solution. For any two EHR applications, it is unlikely that ALL data will transfer over perfectly smoothly. Structured data is always the easiest. This includes ICD9 diagnosis codes, medication lists, procedure lists, allergies, and immunizations. Detailed chart notes and SOAP-type templates are more difficult because the data is unstructured, and the free text format may not transfer easily from one EHR technology to the next.

In order to meet Meaningful Use certification, EHR vendors are required to be able to produce this data in a standardized, structured format for any given patient. However, they are NOT required to be able to automatically export all data for all patients. It is possible and/or likely that you may be charged a processing fee for creating an export file of all of your patient data. It is also likely that your new EHR vendor will also charge you a fee for importing previous data. This fee will vary based on the volume and complexity of your previous record set.


Once the data transfer has been initially accomplished, there is a second, absolutely critical process. This is testing. I am familiar enough with the healthcare technology world to know that these transfers are rarely executed perfectly on the first round. It is necessary to perform careful quality testing to validate that your data in the new environment is just as accurate as it was in the old environment. There are many steps to doing this, but the basic idea is to select a sub-set of your record population and manually verify that everything is exactly correct for those people. If you find an error in the record of one individual, chances are that it is a systemic problem that is affecting many other patient records in your population. Once you identify any problems, you will then need to work with both vendors to determine the origin of the issue and correct it.

Even with all of this new assurance that it is now readily possible to transfer data, it is still a challenging process for any provider. It’s good to have a professional broker who deeply understands the specifics and knows how to talk to both vendors in their own language. I have experience with this process, and would be happy to help you ensure success. Email me at to talk more about switching EHRs.

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