We believe that sharing is caring, and we aren’t stopping anytime soon. We’ve interviewed our Director of Technology, Chris Feldhaus, about the perils of aging technology. With more than ten years of experience working with Medical Practices and implementing strategic technical solutions, Chris is the perfect person to share wisdom with each of you. Today, we asked Chris how a practice can address aging technology and what practice administrators might need to know about the topic.
Let’s dive right in:
How should a medical practice approach the threat of aging technology?
First and foremost, don’t expect technology to last forever. Understand that technology will age. Your technology is going to fail. It's not a table. It breaks. Different types of technology, as in hardware vs. software, have different timelines to consider. Hardware is typically considered “aged” at five years while software varies.
Preparing for your technology to age is simply about planning. At three to four years old (before the warranty expires) create a plan to replace any aging servers and workstations. Be aware of the timelines for each type of hardware and be aware of the financial expense.
Why should a practice monitor age of technology?
There’s an inherent risk to working with outdated technology- security vulnerabilities, for starters. Software manufacturers don’t want to take care of old stuff, so any vulnerabilities or bugs discovered in it, go unpatched/unfixed. They become a risk because they’re always going to be there, and no one is going to fix them.
The same goes for hardware replacement parts, they become more difficult to find. As things get older, chance of failure increases, and therefore there’s going to be a high risk of downtime. Depending on what the failure is, it could impact your clinic either by making it slower or stopping it all together.
Let's say there’s a server still under warranty and we have four-hour turnaround for parts. On a 4-hour timeline the vendor will fly in any part needed. So that’s the downtime – half a day. If there’s no longer support, they don’t have that part. So, I’ll have to go to a third party vendor to find that part. It takes anywhere from a few days to two weeks to get the part. If that’s your business-critical application, you’d be down for two weeks.
End of life technology to be aware of:
Windows Server 2008 R2 - 01/14/2020
Windows 7 - 01/14/2020
Server 2008 R2 - 07/09/2019
Exchange Server 2007 - 04/11/2017
Exchange Server 2010 - 01/14/2020
VMWare ESXESX 5.5 - 09/19/2019
ESX 6.0 - 03/12/2020
What does it mean for a software to be end of life?
Software manufacturers define how long they’re going to support software versions. They don’t want to support everything they’ve ever released, it's not practical.
There are a couple issues to consider when it comes to end-of-life software. The manufacturer stops providing security updates which puts you at risk. Also, your ability to get support diminishes. If you have a problem, and need help, oftentimes you can’t get it. Either because the software company isn't supposed to offer support for a particular version or because you’ve reached someone who has never been trained on it.
What are the questions practices should be asking to prepare?
What are your business plans in the next few years and how does your technology fit into those plans? Will you be opening offices, adding providers, having providers retire, moving offices, merging with another practice? Any significant change in the business may require changes to your technology.
How do changing governmental regulations impact your business?
Certain specialties will have regulations that govern the technology they use. For instance, looking at a high-quality monitor is important to view scans. Other specialties may be regulated by reporting requirements which would affect the information that is necessary to capture via PM or EHR.
How long do we expect this stuff to last?
When we buy hardware, we generally know how long it will last. Software varies. Server operating systems might last a decade, some software might release every few months or every year.
What is your expected growth?
Do you plan on increasing volume of patients? Adding new applications or diagnostics equipment? Can your software accommodate that growth?
How long do you have to maintain legacy data on your aging technology?
There are rules about how long you have to keep your data – they vary by state and also for minors. Data can still be in use after a new application is implemented. Oftentimes legacy software runs on old hardware. There are support costs involved. For an EHR there’s often an annual fee for use and license. When you stop paying them, you often lose that license and access to that data.
There are a few options here 1) keep your hardware, software, and licensing current as long as you need that data. It becomes cost-prohibitive though, and most practices don’t do this. If the software is no longer being maintained, it will be impossible to do this because it won’t install on newer equipment. Your other options are 2) migrate the data to a new system, if you can export/import or integrate it with you new platform, then do that. Sometimes this is possible, sometimes it isn’t. For some it might be just fine to 3) export the data and access it in some other format (like excel).
Addressing aging technology before it negatively affects your practice is the key to achieving peace with technology. If nothing else, remember these three things: 1) know the age of your technology 2) create a plan, including budget, for replacing hardware 3) update software and be sure you can confidently access data. We get it, creating a technology strategy can be overwhelming, but these three tips will make sure your practice thrives.
About The Author
Chris Feldhaus, Director of technology
Chris is a founding member of the Systeem team. He has developed and implemented a number of our key service offerings, including system availability, performance monitoring, and backup and disaster recovery. He earned his bachelor of science degree in computer science from the University of North Texas, and in his spare time, enjoys photography, amateur radio, woodworking, horticulture, and computer programming.