In The Trenches: Primary Care Practice Saves With EMR Transition

This is the first in an occasional series of stories I’m writing on how medical practices – particularly smaller groups – are handling their health IT challenges. If you have suggestions for future columns please feel free to write to me at

It only took six months for Clem Surak to realize that his current EMR system wasn’t going to cut it. Surak, who bought Wilmington, NC-based primary care practice Health Partners in 2011 with his wife, didn’t originally come from the healthcare business, but he quickly saw that his IT platforms weren’t cost-effective.

The systems he inherited to run the practice, an Allscripts EHR sprawling across three servers and a companion practice management platform called Tiger, were “very proprietary” and tech support wasn’t easy to access. And they cost $20K per year to support two doctors.

Worse, the product wasn’t very current. “Meaningful Use had to be downloaded as a separate module,” said Surak.

Not surprisingly, Surak began looking for other options. After consulting with his local Regional Extension Center, he went with a new system from Amazing Charts (full disclosure: a former client of your editor). The new system, which went live in June 2012, offered some important benefits, including:

* Savings:  It cost Health Partners $5,400/year to license the integrated Amazing Charts EHR, a $14,600 savings over the Allscripts systems.

* Maintenance: Because the new solution is cloud-based, the practice doesn’t need to maintain the software or cope with technical breakdowns directly.

* Rollout: Implemented over the course of three months, with no slowdown or reduction in physician hours needed. “We kept our normal pace,” Surak says.

* Data transfer: To bring patient demographic data over from Allscripts to the new system, all the practice had to do was export Allscripts data into an Excel spreadsheet, then run an Amazing Charts wizard which imported it.

Of course, the practice faced some challenges as well, largely around adjusting workflow and phasing out the old system:

* Running in parallel:  For the first few years after the transition to Amazing Charts, Health Partners had to keep the Allscripts system running alongside the new system.

* Practice management lag:  Amazing Charts didn’t offer a practice management module at the time Health Partners acquired the EMR. Until mid-2015, when a practice management module became available, it had to keep doing patient scheduling and accounting in the Allscripts system.

Ultimately, despite some transitional hassles, Surak is glad he made the shift to a set of systems that work effectively in tandem. Putting a new EMR and practice management system in place hasn’t just saved money, it’s helped Surak keep efficiency high, running the practice with just a couple of support staffers.

“Most offices this size would have five to seven support staffers, but we don’t have to,” he says. “And keeping overhead down is the key to remaining independent.”

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.