Matthew Huhn, director of business development at ImproMed Inc., admits that changing practice management software is a painful process.
But what’s most important, he says, is the long-term payoff.
“Veterinarians and their staff are naturally resistant to software conversations,” Huhn says. “The right vendor is flexible to the practice’s needs and makes the process as easy as possible, ultimately saving time, increasing revenue and helping to reduce human error.”
Selecting the right software can mean the difference between a smooth transition and daily frustration. Eighty to 90 percent of veterinary practices use management software, and more than half of the users switch their provider at least once.
“There are so many possibilities with the right software,” says Matthew Russell, director of technology at IntraVet, a veterinary software developer located in Effington, Ill. “You can track inventory, make sure you don’t overbook boarding and transfer digital radiographs directly into patient records, to name a few.”
Practice management software can be a significant upfront investment, one that may top $30,000 when add-on modules, hardware and peripherals are factored in.
Software sleuths say practice owners and managers should think about current and future goals and choose the most useful software features.
Getting a Start
Before contacting a prospective vendor, list the functions and expectations you desire in practice management software.
“Ask yourself what areas you want to grow or focus on in your practice,” says Tyler Patterson, director of Idexx Laboratories’ Cornerstone product line. “The top five veterinary practice management companies are all pretty competitive with the base price, so the features that are special to each company are a good way to detect that will work best in your practice.
“Software touches every person in the practice, so consider what areas of the software each team member will need to use. For example, some may only need to know how to schedule appointments or sign clients in.”
Scott McAllister, president of McAllister Software Systems, which produces AVImark, suggests surveying other practices about their software choices.
“Ask your peers what software they use and what they do and don’t like about it,” McAllister says. “And ask the vendor who their software integrates with and make sure their design will help your practice run more efficiently. Requesting a demonstration of the company’s software isn’t uncommon. This can usually be done in person or with a CD.”
Calling a software company’s technical support line is another thing to do before signing up. Note how long you’re on hold and the competence level of the technician who answers.
“Customer service is an important factor,” Russell says. “Make sure the company can answer your questions in normal jargon and not computer-speak. It shouldn’t be a daunting task to understand your software. If it feels like it is, you’re probably dealing with the wrong company.”
Recover Lost Revenue
Basing a business partnership on budget alone can mean headaches in the long run, experts say. Ask a potential partner for examples of savings or revenue retrieved by other practices using the company’s software.
“Going with one of the top companies in the industry is less of a gamble,” McAllister says. “Management software that integrates with reference labs can catch missed charges. One of our clients reported $20,000 saved in missed charges by using this feature alone.
“There are a lot of fly-by-night companies that aren’t familiar with the industry and aren’t around to assist with technical support and product upgrades. This sends the practice back out to start over with a new company.”
Manufacturers say training and customer service are two points that should be a priority to a veterinarian diving into the software market. Larger veterinary software vendors host user conferences for clients and partner companies. In addition, online webinars, written manuals and in-person or off-site training are generally available.
“A veterinarian needs to know their software vendor is a partner in their practice’s success,” McAllister says. “Technical support is an important part of a software company’s offerings. Often, veterinarians and their staff give up on their software when the issue could be a simple fix with IT’s help.”
Safeguarding client and patient information is often a concern when selecting software, but one emerging trend is redefining the term “security.”
“More and more veterinarians are asking about fraud and theft protection against employees,” Patterson says. “Veterinarians also want medical record security so if valid changes need to be made to a patient’s record, the original record won’t change and new additions will be added as amendments instead of editing the existing record.”
Potential software partners should be asked:
• Can the software compile client reminders and integrate with reminder programs?
“DVMax sends client reminders and can integrate with third-party vendors for a faxing option,” says Lateefa Hayes, director of sales at Sneekers Software Inc. in New York City. “Check if the company you are considering has a similar feature.”
• How many computers can use the software at the base price, and can other practice locations be linked?
“Each provider has different requirements to their licensing structure,” says Huhn, of Oshkosh, Wis.-based ImproMed. “This typically depends on the number of areas you intend to use the software.”
• What hardware is needed? Is the hardware purchased from the software vendor or another company?
“Hardware and software can be bought through IntraVet or through a third-party vendor” IntraVet’s Russell says. “Usually, a one-stop shop is easiest, but it’s not always the least expensive.”
• Can the client’s bill be built as the medicl record is generated?
“Compiling fees at the same time the patient’s medical record is entered means less chance for missed charges, less time used and less opportunity to introduce errors,” Huhn says.
• How are upgrades done, and do they cost extra?
Some companies include product upgrades with the technical service fee. The fee typically is paid annually.
• What other software is necessary to make the program function properly?
“Ask about hidden or additional costs,” says McAllister, of Piedmont, Mo.-based McAllister Software Systems. “Make sure you are aware of everything you are getting for the final fee agreed upon.”
• What is the transition time from an old program to a new one?
“The start-up time can vary depending on the amount of information that needs to be converted,” Huhn says. “The most time-consuming part can be acclimating the staff to new software. Training time varies depending on the size and schedule of the practice team.”
After serving thousands of veterinary users, software providers can give good examples of how practices went wrong with their choice. A veterinarian’s absence during the purchase process is one of the bigger failures.
“Often, a veterinarian will assign the duty of finding a software provider to an employee, but only the veterinarian can fully understand what technology is needed and how the practice intends to expand,” Patterson says.