Providers of practice management software report a spike in sales as more veterinarians rely on technology to help them get through the work day. Improving efficiency and operating a leaner business are tried and true tactics that allow practices to emerge from a down economy stronger than the competition.
Practice management software can accomplish many things, including catch previously missed charges, create and access medical records, manage appointments and send client reminders. Though many software options available today spawned from programs initially intended to serve as electronic filing cabinets, such systems can now manage every aspect of the practice.
Experts say a practitioner considering another software program or investing in one for the first time needs to factor in all the practice’s goals. Integrating equipment, converting to a paperless practice and saving time rank among the top functions that veterinarians want, say software companies.
“It can be tough to compare apples to apples when looking at what practice management companies are offering,” says Lateefa Hayes, national sales manager for Sneakers Software Inc. of New York City, the developer of DVMAX software. “Each company presents its pricing in different ways. Some companies offer hardware along with their software and others exclude the cost of additional products or services necessary to use their software.”
Hayes advises ensuring that any agreement made with a software company details what is being bought and what each item costs. Some companies sell the license to their software while others retain the license and charge a fee for each computer or user.
“Don’t sign a contract until you know exactly what you’re paying for and the time frame of the agreement,” Hayes says. “Being locked into a long, undesirable software contract could end the sale of a practice if the potential buyer doesn’t want to be stuck with the contract.
“Another point to consider is the type of computer the software works on,” Hayes continues. “Many practices have PCs and Macs. If practice management software only works with certain hardware, that complicates things, too.”
The American Animal Hospital Association’s Trends magazine published a Reader’s Choice Survey that showed Idexx’s software as having the biggest market share, with 28 percent of respondents using Cornerstone. AVImark was second at 24 percent and ImproMed Infinity was third at 16 percent, followed by IntraVet and DVMAX.
“Using any of the top practice management software programs [properly] will benefit a practice,” Hayes says. “When education and support work right, a practice will work much smoother using practice management software over older methods such as paper files and hand-writing everything. There’s a lot less error with digital practices.”
Because many practice management companies link technical support programs with their upgrades, familiarity with basic tech jargon makes a difference when looking at what a company provides.
An update is a frequent, small change in existing software, like that for Microsoft products and computer security. An upgrade is a revised version of the software that contains new information, forms and options. Saying updates are included in practice management software isn’t as good an offer as having an upgrade included, too.
An estimated 90 percent of veterinary practices use practice management software, and the number is expected to increase. That’s a significant number of people who need training and continuing education.
“If your staff doesn’t know how to use your software, it’s not going to benefit your practice at all,” Hayes says. “Make sure the company you choose as a software provider also provides training in a way your staff will best benefit.”
Training opportunities vary between companies and can include online, with quizzes, webinars, podcasts; in person at the clinic; offsite; or a combination.
“Prior to installation, ImproMed’s education team works with the clinic to design and implement a plan to meet the specific needs of the veterinary practice,” says Matthew Huhn, director of business development at ImproMed Inc. (Infinity) of Oshkosh, Wis. “We typically train on site for four days.”
Matthew Russell, director of technology at Webster Veterinary (IntraVet) of Sterling, Mass., says training typically takes two or three days but depends on the size of the practice.
“Achieving a level of comfort with the software takes less than two weeks,” Russell adds.
Practice management software helps reduce financial loss due to human error, manufacturers say.
“When an invoice is created right from the veterinarian’s medical write-up, charges aren’t missed,” Hayes says. “One client told us that he found that he had been losing $10,000 a month in missed charges. He had discovered just how much he was losing out on once his staff was trained in using practice management software.”
Cornerstone software offers an advanced medical notes function that allows doctors to choose from multiple templates or create one, says Andrew Knupp, marketing manager at Idexx Laboratories Inc. of Westbrook, Maine.
“The Compliance Assessment Tool automatically matches the practice’s chosen protocols based on specific characteristics, including species, breed, gender, weight and age by prompting staff to recommend appropriate care opportunities,” Knupp says.
Russell says integration is one of the biggest requests today.
“Veterinarians want their practice management software to seamlessly integrate with various equipment and diagnostic modalities,” he says. “We are continually looking at ways to integrate other technologies into our software.”
Many veterinary practice management programs include the ability to document controlled drug use, an important consideration in some states.
“California and New York currently require electronic notification when controlled substances are dispensed,” Huhn says. “Everything is time- and date-stamped in the program, which, depending on state requirements, eliminates the need for a handwritten log and manually submitting the information.”
Dan Holland, executive director of business strategy at McAllister Software Systems of Piedmont, Mo., says his company’s AVImark program offers equine-specific information.
“This feature helps veterinarians working in the field,” he says. “They’re able to input information about an equine patient offsite and have the information documented directly into the record. We also created a solid imaging solution called DragonflyPACS that can capture anything DICOM compliant and attach it directly to the patient’s medical record.”
Linking software between multiple hospitals is of greater importance today, manufacturers say. The software needs to be easily accessible on computers at one practice and at additional sites.
“We’ve improved vital signs capture and reporting, enhanced system reporting capabilities, automated credit and debit processing solutions, electronic signature capture and many general system enhancements,” Idexx’s Knupp says.
Many software companies report a heightened interest in telemedicine options.
“This is a growing area within the profession,” Holland says.
He predicts that pet insurance will play a more prominent role in practice management software as more pet owners sign on.