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No question about it – figuring out how to move old data into a new EHR can be intimidating. For mental health/substance abuse agencies, the change requires handling mountains of records required by insurance companies and regulatory agencies as well as complex reports and billing information. As with any big project, it helps to break the tasks into discrete goals and actions. These steps will help you plan your data migration and make the process go smoothly.

Assess your data.

Start by taking inventory of your data. What data do you have? Where are they stored and in what format? Are you trying to move digital information from one system to another, or convert paper records to electronic format? What records do you absolutely need in the new system and which can be archived? Who should have access to different types of paperwork? How do you make access as secure as possible? How do the data need to be organized and cross-referenced?

Know the costs associated with getting to your data.

Some data may not be under your control, such as those that your current EHR vendor manages. Depending on your contract, you may need to pay your current EHR to export your old data to the new system. Even if a vendor provides a free export, it may not be in a format that is compatible with your new system. Review your contract or call your vendor/reseller to learn what’s involved in getting the data out of the prior system and ready for the new one.

If your records are on paper, know the costs associated with manual data entry
Remember that considerable expense is involved if you have staff scan records and manually associate them with client records in your new system
Eliminate the junk.

As early in the process as possible, make sure that all of your data are accurate.

Review the export your current vendor provided
If you are re-entering data manually, implement a quality assurance process to ensure accuracy
It’s like the old saying goes: Garbage in, garbage out …

Prepare for data extraction.

Once you understand what data you can migrate, determine which data you will migrate. Use your practice’s workflow to guide this process so that the data fit your unique needs. You don’t want to import all your old data if you just need certain fields.

Know your legal responsibilities around old records.

Each state and regulatory body has different rules for data retention. Be aware of what needs to be retained in the case of an unexpected audit or subpoena.

Standardize your data.

Understand how your new system expects data when imported. The chances are good that the way data are stored in your old system and the way data will be stored in your new system are different in some ways. For example, your source system may store dates as text values in the format YYYYMMDD (20130520 for May, 20, 2013), but your new system stores dates as actual date types. Your new system may use codes for other data elements (i.e. 1 = Male, 2 = Female) that are different than the codes for the same elements in the new system (i.e. M = Male and F = Female).

All of these idiosyncrasies require you to “stage” and “cleanse” the data. In other words, after you get the data out of the old system, you must convert certain of data into other forms before you can load it.

Implement and migrate your data.

Migrating data to a new system can be a complicated and, in some cases, tedious task. Like any large project, you’ll need to make sure it gets done and done well. We’ve heard about many instances in which agencies can’t “go live” because not enough data were input into the new system to make it viable.

Conduct a test run.

Don’t assume that everything will go right the first time. A test run with a demo system will surely uncover some details that might have been overlooked.

Plan the timeline.

Make sure that all involved parties are aware of the timeline. Once you migrate data from your legacy system, any further changes made in that old system will not be propagated to the new one. Therefore, either be prepared to start using the new system immediately and exclusively, or double enter data into both systems until you can fully switch over to the new one.


Validate that data have migrated accurately and are accessible. During this process, you will be checking to make sure that all of the kinks have been ironed out and that your new archive is running smoothly. All of your data should be successfully moved, and there should not be any discrepancies. Those who need access to data must know how to get to it, as well as how to access it.

Choose a new EHR that knows how to import data from old systems and paper records.

ClinicTracker can make the data migration process much easier. Our secure, customizable system and technical staff have a solid track record of helping behavioral health agencies manage their prior data. We also partner with Paper Alternative Solutions, a company that is an expert in high-end scanning of paper records. They can work with you to process old files and tag them in a way that ClinicTracker can incorporate easily.

We won’t deny it – figuring out what to do with your old records is a critical but daunting task. At ClinicTracker, we’re ready, willing and able to make that process as painless as possible.