The future of the cloudAre today’s veterinary practice management software platforms fulfilling the true promise of the cloud? January 3, 2020 By Ali Hashmat and Dan HollandIt’s really hard to predict the future. Back in the 1990s, plenty of industry experts questioned whether the internet would last or whether it would be quickly replaced by something else (much like 8-track tapes were replaced by cassettes and GPS systems were replaced by smartphones). Others believed the internet was here to stay, and one of them began building the first cloud practice management system for the human medical market. At that time, software systems cost $50,000 or more for physicians, so the idea of creating one that would be delivered through the internet in a more cost-effective form was really appealing. Those who believed the internet was here to stay were right. Today, we have more than 50 cloud-based practice management systems and apps in the veterinary market, and we all use cloud software every day. YouTube, online banking, Dropbox, and Google Drive are just a few common examples. Cloud software can offer accessibility, flexibility, affordability, and convenience. Cloud platforms also can be more secure, as constant, automatic updates can provide up-to-date protection to users. Yet, even with this flexibility and accessibility, are today’s veterinary practice management software platforms fulfilling the true promise of the cloud? They store our data, but they don’t connect with and share information with other cloud-based systems. So where do we go from here? Inspiration from other industries If we want cloud-based practice management software to improve, the fastest way to get there is to borrow ideas and inspiration from other industries. The human medical market, for example, is more than three times the size of the veterinary market, so there are more resources to invest in technology research and development. If we can borrow ideas and modify as needed to fit the veterinary market, we can get where we want to go faster. Five to 10 years from now, veterinary practice management software may help you run your clinic better, faster, and more efficiently. Let’s look at how. Managing all aspects of your business Today, veterinary practices have to log in to disparate systems to handle payroll, marketing, inventory orders, human resources, finance, even paying bills through an online bank. All those steps take extra time and require leaving your practice management software and going elsewhere to complete tasks. In the future, software will be able to seamlessly exchange data with other systems and become a true data hub. So practitioners can get almost everything done from right in the system. Diagnosing tricky medical issues Today, practice management software stores medical data in the electronic medical record, but veterinarians need to provide the diagnoses and treatment plans. In most cases, that’s pretty straightforward. But what about specialty cases or difficult problems? Ones you haven’t seen before—or haven’t seen in a long time? In the future, software will prompt you to research other topics based on the contents of the medical record. That’s happening today in the fields of cancer research and human health care. If software is connected to a network of the latest industry research and case studies, it can point you to the most relevant cases to help with your diagnosis. This type of cloud functionality would never take the place of the veterinarian, but it could help improve overall speed to diagnosis and quality of care. Providing a better retail experience Today, the front desk is a very hectic place. Staff members are busy checking patients in and out, scheduling and, rescheduling appointments, and trying to fit in appointment confirmations for the next day. Yet, it’s also the most important part of the practice. It’s the first and last impression clients have. What if practice management software could help provide a better retail experience in the veterinary clinic? In the future, software will help streamline tasks more efficiently so the front desk can be a more welcoming place. Personal greetings, more client interaction, advance online check-in, and checkout via mobile device are just a few examples of how the retail experience within a veterinary clinic can be enhanced. Automating marketing through software Today, staff members pull data from their software to develop marketing lists, create reminders and campaigns, and deploy them. Sometimes they send the data to other providers to distribute marketing campaigns for them. But what if we could create a more automated process? In the future, practice management software will help automate marketing. This is happening today in other industries. Marketing automation and artificial intelligence (AI) tools can send marketing messages to customers and prospects based on their behavior or other criteria. Can’t our cloud software do the same by predicting what type of marketing our clients should receive based on the patient’s breed, age, and health history? That frees up veterinary staff members to focus on practicing better medicine, while automated marketing happens in the background to support it. Anticipating inventory requirements Today, staff members manage inventory based on quantities on-hand or the “eyeball” method. If something looks low, it must be time to order more. Sure, many cloud platforms have inventory management features. But data input and inventory ordering still require manual effort provided by employees. In the future, software will anticipate inventory needs based on upcoming procedures and prompt staff members to order supplies for just-in-time delivery. This is how it’s done in other industries, such as manufacturing—companies know inventory management is critical for proper cash management. Too much inventory sitting on the shelf ties up cash and risks spoilage. Too little inventory can mean missed opportunities in product sales and procedures. Future cloud-based software systems can view your appointment calendar and note upcoming procedures and surgeries, compare supplies needed with what’s on hand, notify you when you are low on certain supplies, order those supplies, and check them in when they arrive. This will give veterinary practices tighter control over medical supplies and cash. Practice without boundaries This type of cloud-based functionality is not yet available. But these ideas represent the kind of thinking that comes from looking to other industries for inspiration and shortening the software development curve in the veterinary industry. To accommodate this functionality tomorrow, we need to build cloud-based software platforms today using advanced technology that can anticipate and accommodate these workflow enhancements. That’s practice without boundaries Ali Hashmat is founder and CEO of CureMD, a cloud software platform in the medical industry. Dan Holland is director of commercial software for Patterson Veterinary.