Research and planning are key when overcoming technical challenges
by Edward Kutt and Robert Katarincic
October 16, 2014

A successful data migration will need to overcome numerous technical challenges. Our discussion continues with many of the obstacles that we’ve encountered and how we resolved them. This article covers database and system challenges. Some software vendors restrict your access to the data so that it is difficult for you to migrate away from them. This creates an expensive dependency. They might try to sell you this data migration as a service. When selecting a software provider, this question should be asked up front. One solution for ensuring that you own your data is to export the reports into Excel, a comma separated variable (CSV) file or a basic text format. This is usually an expensive option since it often requires custom programming and, also, data accuracy can be compromised. A quality vendor will have tools to mitigate this process. Once you have the old billing system data structure and the target data structure, then a table of translation rules should be identified for each and every table and field in the database. In many cases there will not be a one-to-one relationship of fields. Some features in one system may not be available in the next, or vice versa. One strategy is to create an Excel file, with each tab representing a database object such as a patient, physician, insurance, documents, orders, etc. Each Excel table will list all the fields for that object. For example, the patient spreadsheet would list the field names for last name, first name, address, social security number, etc. for the old database and the target database. This will define the rules that a software developer will use to import and migrate the data. Depending on the level of complexity, this process could take weeks or a few months. There will be some unanswered questions that won’t be resolved up front, and finding the correct person to answer these might take some time. Some of the data will be the equivalent of square pegs in round holes. For example, the accounting practice might be “last in, first out” in one system and “first in, first out” in another, and so your software vendor will need to determine the best way to import this data. Any database of significant size is bound to have a certain amount of bad data. We have found that resolving this is one of the biggest migration time factors. Our solution is to, whenever possible, fix the bad data in the old billing database first. Bad data can also be filtered on the import. Some fields may require a bit of extra work. For example, in the old billing system a patient type might mean active, inactive or deceased. However, in the new billing system there may be three different types of active patients: those who have purchased from your business in the last year, those who have purchased in the last five years and those who have never purchased, but have received free samples. One customer of ours had more than 1,000 tables in their database. With careful analysis we were able to identify about 50 tables that we needed to migrate. Each table could have 10-100 fields that needed to be identified for translation or discarded as unnecessary. A dedicated billing analyst will be required to confirm fee-schedule migration accuracy. A good deal of attention should be given to this since it determines how your products and services are billed. Insurance companies will reject and delay payments to claims with inaccurate data, which makes this piece particularly critical. The systems administrators should be involved to support any hardware issues related to system performance and capacity planning. Begin by measuring the cost of a single user in terms of CPU and memory, and then multiply that number by the number of users on the system to determine the overall required capacity. Keep in mind that the computer is doing other things in the background, so don’t saturate the capacity of any single machine. A successful data migration will require the business owner or manager and key staff to address the numerous technical challenges involved and work closely with the migration vendor. However, these challenges become an opportunity for you to find further ways to streamline processes, reduce costs and save time, which increases your overall profit margin. Despite the challenges and detail involved, data migration to a new software partner who doesn’t “hold you hostage” will improve your bottom line.