Institutions that choose to upgrade or replace their legacy picture archiving and communications system (PACS) are faced with the thorny question of what to do with the historical data stored on the system. In most states, medical providers are required to retain patient medical records for seven years or more after their creation (and even longer in cases where pediatric images are involved), which means that imaging studies need to be preserved beyond the average lifetime of the PACS that archives them.
There are essentially two choices when dealing with legacy PACS data: You can leave the data on the legacy system and maintain it for access by the new system, or you can migrate the data to the new system.
Given the ongoing costs of administration, support and maintenance that the first option requires, many institutions instead choose to migrate the legacy data, which requires a single upfront expenditure, so that all imaging studies will be stored on the same system. With more and more medical providers choosing to transition from an on-site legacy PACS to a cloud-based PACS, the question of how to best migrate legacy data has never been more relevant.
So how long does it take to migrate medical imaging legacy data between systems, and what are some of the concerns when doing so?
When upgrading to a next-generation PACS or replacing a legacy system with a new one, PACS vendors should be able to assist you with data migration. This process, which can involve up to dozens of terabytes of imaging data over the system's lifetime, is not an insignificant issue.
In most cases, the migration process is made easier because the medical imaging data is stored in a compliant, standards-based, universally recognized file format, so it can simply be copied to the new system. For example, a low volume practice with images stored in standard DICOM format might only take a few hours to complete their data migration.
However, sometimes the data isn't so easily transferred because it's stored in a proprietary file format. In these cases, migrating the data will require specialists to examine the details of that file format, and if possible convert it to a nonproprietary format that will be stored in the new cloud-based system.
In such cases, the length of time required to import medical imaging data can vary based on the complexity of the proprietary format. In the end, the data migration can take a few hours to several weeks depending on volume and complexity of the data being transferred.
The Importance of Early Planning
There are a few setbacks regarding legacy data that may expand the migration timeline beyond standard projections. As mentioned above, one of them is data stored in a proprietary format, which requires special analysis and treatment in order to convert it into a usable nonproprietary format.
Another potential concern is data that is difficult to access by the vendor due to missing credentials or passwords. If the client is slow in providing access or in indicating which files should be migrated, this can further stretch the timeline.
When deciding to upgrade your PACS, the data migration between systems needs to be planned early in the process. Carefully consider how you will perform the migration, which files need to be migrated, and when the migration will be performed before reaching out to vendors for assistance.