Data Integration During a Healthcare Merger or Acquisition

As more healthcare organizations engage in mergers and acquisitions, data management has become a critical discipline in the industry. Combining patient data from separate electronic health record systems can be complex. IT leaders must ensure the right data is migrated to the new EHR and create a single source of truth that incorporates all relevant patient information.

Unlike other industries where errors can lead to problems like financial failure, inaccurate data in healthcare can endanger lives.

“It has become a major challenge for the healthcare industry,” said Venkataraman Chittoor, chief product and technology officer at Marathon Health. “When we migrate two systems, we need to plan how it will be used, how it will be mapped and how data issues will be detected.”

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The importance of planning for EHR data integration

Healthcare M&A surged more than 56 percent in 2021, according to a report by PwC. Much of this is being driven by organizations seeking to consolidate fragmented sub-sectors of the healthcare system to create larger entities that can provide higher quality, patient-centric care anchored in digital capabilities. Long-term care and home health care remain two of the strongest areas for mergers and acquisitions.

Health data can be particularly difficult to deal with because it’s complex, a valuable target for cybercriminals, and critical to patient outcomes, says Chittoor. While organizations across all industries face challenges in merging data from disparate systems, this is particularly critical in healthcare, as this data can make the difference between life and death.

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“In healthcare, if you’re missing specific medical conditions or medications that people may have taken in the past, or if they’ve had other issues and the data isn’t entirely accurate, it can steer them in the wrong direction,” says Chittoor.

Health data is also a prime target for cyber criminals as it often contains financial and personal information that can be used for fraud. In June 2022 alone, 70 healthcare data breaches involving 500 or more records were reported to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights. To reduce such risks, healthcare organizations must carefully review the security policies and procedures of both organizations during a merger or acquisition.

This complexity has made master data management an important discipline in healthcare, says Chittoor. It’s important that companies spend a lot of time upfront figuring out how best to map data points and what the new infrastructure will look like, he adds. Healthcare IT leaders must determine the amount of data they want to retain, apply rules that maintain data quality, and ensure validation and alignment with the leading organization’s systems. This often involves members of the IT team and a quality assurance team to validate the data before releasing the new system to patients.

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“It’s not just about moving data between columns. It must be a comprehensive migration. Data sharing and storage has been a major challenge for healthcare companies, but they are making great strides in catching up,” says Chittoor.

Integrate EHR data with quality assurance during a merger or acquisition

At Ochsner Health, data merging begins with guiding principles that focus on best practices for migrating, using and presenting clinical data to users, said Amy Trainor, the organization’s vice president of IS Clinical Systems. Since the quality of the data is affected by the previous system, how often it was updated and what features were available, a best practice approach helps ensure that data is available in the clinician’s workflow.

Ochsner has entered into several mergers and acquisitions in recent years. Most recently, it merged with Rush Health Systems, adding 30 additional clinics and seven hospitals in Mississippi and Alabama.

Even with the smallest partners, OCHSNER carries out a data check to ensure accuracy. Continuous nursing records are especially important because they’re not all created equal, Trainor says. True CCD summaries can include notes, vital signs, and surgical records in addition to problems, allergies, medications, and vaccinations. Because these documents may not be consistent across systems, it is important to verify their accuracy and carefully consider how they should be integrated into the new system.

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“We saw a range of documents, from the most challenging to the most limited,” says Trainor. “We evaluate and test this through our data review process.”

Trainor points out that every merger and acquisition is unique when it comes to managing data migration. The biggest challenge is often ensuring that the master patient index is correct. Using different systems for patient registration requires much more lead time than replacing a single system. In one case, Ochsner had to verify three sources of truth and no indication of which information was the most recent.

“These tend to add significantly to the timeframe, as making sure patient information is accurate is paramount,” says Trainor.

Trainor recommends several best practices. The most important thing is setting a goal, focusing on accurate, clinically relevant data, and then making sure the data is actionable, “not just migrating to check the box,” she says. As there are always unique circumstances, IT leaders should also create a process to view the incoming data with each partner. Clean patient records are critical, and organizations should invest the extra time to get everything right.

“We want to make sure the data we have is as actionable and as present in the clinician’s workflow as possible,” she says.

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