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Integrated Systems Herald An Ultrasound Of Change

New technology integration is looking to become the standard in veterinary practices.

Photo courtesy of Eklin Medical Systems

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About a decade ago, when Allen Kaat first entered veterinary hospital management, “information technology” didn’t go far beyond the traditional files stored in metal cabinets.

“There was a computer on the desk, but it was basically a cash register,” says Kaat, hospital director for the 17-doctor Animal Emergency & Referral Center in Northbrook, Ill.

These days, Kaat and his colleagues are much closer to the cutting edge of new technology. They’re working to implement management application software that communicates throughout the building, linking to digital equipment that includes ultrasound, digital radiography, fluoroscopy, MRI and CT.

“I’m all about integration,” says Kaat, who spent 11 years in the IT industry before shifting into his current role. “When you have a 30,000- to 40,000-square-foot hospital, integration of your modalities with your management application system is critical. The less data entry you do, the better off you’ll be.”

Kaat had integration on his mind as he led an 18-month search for the right practice management software to support the emergency and specialty-care hospital, which is seeing growth of about 20 percent a year.

He started with a dozen candidates and quickly pared the list to four or five before choosing software by VIA, a division of Eklin Medical Systems of Santa Clara, Calif. A key factor in the decision was the software’s ability to link with the center’s four different ultrasound devices, including ones from Ultrasource, which in May was acquired by Eklin.

Critical to any ultrasound choice is superb image quality, an intuitive user interface, support and training. However, in today’s digital environment, an ultrasound system should provide even more. Seamless integration with practice management software is key to selecting an ultrasound system.

Among the “most wanted” system features are DICOM compliance and modality worklist, so the software can communicate with ultrasound equipment and so images can be easily captured, stored and retrieved.

That communication between software and device is critical to saving time and effort, Kaat says.

For many veterinary practices, each time an ultrasound is ordered, a technician has to enter all the pertinent information about the pet and the client before a study can begin.

But with software that integrates modality worklist requests, patient and client data are easily accessed and attached to each new study. Once the information is in the system, it never has to be retyped.

That time savings, practice managers say, adds up fast, especially for a multiple-doctor specialty practice. The savings compound when you factor in the elimination of data-entry errors.

“It’s not unusual for a technician to fat-finger a name or transpose a number, and now you have an orphan study out there that you have to find,” Kaat says. 

An integrated system fosters improved job satisfaction among technicians, managers say.

“Basically, it lets them be technicians rather than typists,” says Thomas Zehnder, DVM, of Franklin Pet Hospital and Hotel in Sacramento, Calif.

For Eddie Song, DVM, owner and operator of South Coast Veterinary Hospital in Laguna Niguel, Calif., all the ultrasound efficiency factors add up to a savings of up to 40 percent. “It’s a significant savings, not just on time but on stress,” he says.

Kaat says the integrated system will be a boon for staff veterinarians. They can order a study, check on its status and call up results without ever leaving their specialty area. “When we’re talking about some doctors working 10,000 square feet away from ultrasound, that’s huge,” Kaat says.

Once a study is complete, it automatically becomes part of the patient’s medical record. Billing is automatic, eliminating the chance it might fall through the cracks.

“We don’t like to look at it as a method of capturing lost charges as much as a way to improve patient care,” says Eric Lindrud, head of operations at Franklin Pet Hospital.

Because the Animal Emergency & Referral Center has 117 employees, the one thing Kaat isn’t looking forward to is the transition. “No matter how much preparation you do, there’s no way to avoid the pain of a change that big,” he says.

To mitigate the pain, the center will target training according to job function, Kaat adds. “For instance, receptionists won’t be interested in charge code entry, because that’s not what they do. They’ll be interested in client data entry and closing cases, and they can learn the rest over time.”

Memories of the transition headaches will fade quickly once the system is up and running, Kaat says. The long-term prospects for untapped efficiencies warm the heart of a practice manager with an affinity for IT.

“Now we’re getting toward the human world,” he says. “And that’s exciting.”

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