Originally published in the November 2014 issue of Veterinary Practice News
Most professionals say underutilization is the top problem for users of veterinary practice management software. Practices just aren’t using their software to its full potential.
Stephen T. Pittenger, DVM, Dipl. ABVP, puts practice management software at the heart of operations where he works as chief of staff at Memorial-610 Hospital for Animals in Houston.
“We utilize it as the focal point of each interaction with the client and patient,” Dr. Pittenger said. “If a service is performed or if a product is used or dispensed, the software is the first place we go to record the interaction.”
That could mean invoicing, loading a photo of a lesion, ordering a radiographic study or reviewing previously scanned medical records from another practice.
“We try to use the software as it was designed, to record our data in ways that allow us to easily find and review it, graph, email and print it later,” Pittenger added.
Believers in the superiority of automation like Pittenger believe that many practices don’t use their practice management software to anywhere near its potential.
“The vast majority of practices use practice software as a glorified cash register with a reminder system,” he said.
Pittenger said he knows many practices to still be using a burdensome entry system, with data entered into the practice management software system by one of the staff members on a “circle,” or charge sheet, as well as a hand-written medical record.
“This is three separate steps to complete when you could be doing everything all in one step during the patient and client interaction,” he said.
Craig Claney, general manager at practice management software giant AVImark, believes the firm’s workflow program is one of the least utilized parts of their software.
He offered a typical scenario in veterinary practices that do not use the feature.
“Mrs. Smith calls in and wants to check the status of Fluffy after surgery. She is placed on hold while staff members try to reach the doctor to determine Fluffy’s status and whereabouts. Five minutes are spent handling the client request, making other clients wait to be checked in.”
The workflow feature, called Whiteboard, can track patient activity throughout the day – from check-in to checkout – and enable staff members to see the status and location of all patients at any point during the visit from any computer screen, Claney said.
“Notes can be placed under Fluffy’s status showing the time surgery was completed, her current location, and surgery results,” he said. “Now, staff members can handle status requests in 30 seconds rather than five minutes.”
Inventory management is another underutilized feature. By using software to help manage inventory, practices can minimize the chance for human error, pricing issues and shrinkage, Claney said.
Hallie Detjen, general manager of practice management software provider ImproMed LLC, agreed.
“Inventory is a huge expense for most practices and failing to properly manage your inventory and its relationship to your selling prices can have drastic profit implications for your practice,” Detjen said.
Once practices implement the inventory management module in the software, they can also
take advantage of automated ordering solutions, Detjen said.
“This means your inventory count and pricing is automatically updated, ensuring you maintain the margins necessary to be successful,” she said.
Fear of the Unknown
Why don’t practices use software to its full potential?
Typically the reason is a combination of fear of the unknown and that practice managers are often too busy to sit down and learn something new, Claney said.
“Learning and implementing new software features can be overwhelming and even a bit scary for time-crunched practices that are comfortable doing tasks the old way,” Claney said.
Claney suggests that practice managers seek training from their software provider.
Detjen advises practices to start thinking of the software as a tool that can help manage and grow their businesses.
“If you don’t feel your software is adding value to your practice, chances are you’re not fully utilizing its capabilities,” Detjen said. “Find someone on your staff, like an office manager, who enjoys technology and the benefits it can bring.”
Make that staff member the “technology champion” with the task of maximizing the software, and provide him or her with the time and opportunity to work with the software provider to learn where the software can be better utilized, Detjen said.
Pittenger believes mobile integration of practice management software, both for the practice staff as well as the clients, will be important in years to come.
“The ability of doctors to quickly look at their schedule for the day from home, for a manager to view a schedule to see what the impact of a sick staff member might be on the day’s activities, can really be advantageous,” Pittenger said.
If, for example, a client has to present an animal to an emergency service, having access to the recent laboratory history or radiology report can save her time, money and allow better health care for the animal, he said.
“Most of these features are becoming available as a separate service, typically with an added fee to either the practice or the client,” Pittenger said. “Having these functions integrated tightly into the software and available to all will increase productivity and efficiency.”
Detjen said her company has mobile apps for both iOS and Android that enable practices to integrate handheld devices with their veterinary software.
“You can get a client’s accounts receivable summation before you start any work, access client location, contact information and animal records,” Detjen said.
Alinda Higgins, CVT, the practice manager at East Lake Hospital for Animals Ltd. in Danville, Ill., said being mobile has become increasingly important to the clinic’s staff, which uses tablets and smartphones a great deal at work.
“We are less likely to be stationed at a PC doing entry,” Higgins said. “Having technology at our fingertips makes it easier for us to start medical records-entry in the exam rooms, fill the prescriptions while talking with the client, show radiographs and more. Having more software available on our phones helps to field emergency calls and still allows the person on call to be away from the computer. Making the software more tablet-friendly is also ideal for doctors on the go.” l
Get Most out of Practice Management Software
A few manufacturers and veterinary professionals who are passionate about fully utilizing practice management software offered a few tips.
TIP 1: Set realistic expectations. If learning and implementing new features seem overwhelming, try tackling one at a time. Pick one that may affect productivity most, set up the software to handle it, and then move on to the next one.
TIP 2: Take advantage of your software provider’s training opportunities.
TIP 3: Maintain complete medical records within your software. Keep good notes in the patient record, which you can pull up and refer to at any time, and also store lab results, photos and signed forms in the EMR.
TIP 4: Use the integrations that your software provides with third-party vendors. It’s a huge productivity boost to send orders to third-party vendors directly from your software, receive results automatically into your software and capture charges in client invoices.
TIP 5: Back up your data. Disasters happen. Paper files as well as electronic files can be lost or destroyed. It’s relatively easy to set up an offsite, secure backup of your entire clinic’s data that’s always readily available.
— Stephen T. Pittenger, DVM, Dipl. ABVP, chief of staff at Memorial-610 Hospital for Animals in Houston
TIP 1: Don’t underestimate the need for continuing education related to your software. To maximize the use of any practice management system you really need to ensure that you and your staff receive continuing education.
TIP 2: Stay with the most recent version of software. This not only gives you access to the latest features and enhancements, but it also makes transitioning to the latest release much easier.
TIP 3: Maintain the right hardware. Believe it or not, when practices have issues with their software, sometimes they stem from incompatible or aging hardware. Veterinary practices are full of dust, dander and plenty of pet hair. Maintaining your equipment is extremely important, along with ensuring that you have a plan for replacing aging equipment.
TIP 4: Back up your data. Your data is one of the most valuable assets you have. It contains your customer list as well as your electronic medical records. Unfortunately, disasters happen and hardware fails.
— Hallie Detjen, general manager of ImproMed LLC.
TIP 1: Chart test results for patients. We track the results, show them to clients, print or email them for the client to have. It’s very beneficial for the clients to see how treatments and medications are working for their pet. This is built right in to our software but easily overlooked.
TIP 2: Use the message center for keeping records of phone calls to clients. This encompasses all client questions by phone, office conversations, etc. and puts those into the pet’s medical record. Everyone’s kept abreast on the latest conversations and changes with the patient, medications and notes.
TIP 3: Use a health plan for keeping track of therapy laser uses. The software keeps track of how many treatments have been prepaid for and how many have been used.
TIP 4: Utilize the treatment plans to expedite treatments for inpatients and outpatients. Making the plan lets the technicians, kennel workers and assistants know what needs to be done and by whom and at what time. As they check off their assigned tasks, the charges are made in the invoice.
— Alinda Higgins, CVT, Manager, East Lake Hospital for Animals Ltd.