Practice management software is designed to help veterinary clinics run smoothly and efficiently, but clinics may experience an unintended headache when the new or upgraded system doesn’t work as expected.
Debbie Kanter, communications coordinator at Blum Animal Hospital in Chicago, recalls trying to get the clinic’s practice management software to interface with the X-ray system. Over the years of upgrades, the connection between the two sometimes got lost, she says.
“Although it wasn’t something that shut our whole hospital down, from a duplication of effort and an efficacy standpoint, it was an irritation,” Kanter says.
Part of the issue was having separate companies for each system, she says—ImproMed for the practice management software and an undisclosed competitor of ImproMed’s for the X-ray system. (The competitor also has practice management software.)
The problem has since been resolved, thanks in large part to ImproMed taking steps to make sure the two systems are compatible during upgrades, according to Kanter.
Ron Detjen, president of Oshkosh, Wis.-based ImproMed, acknowledges the frustration factor when things don’t go according to plan.
“Software is very invasive,” he says. “It does such a good job of running a vet’s business that when something doesn’t meet their needs it becomes more traumatic than if they were using a cigar box.”
Upgrades can sometimes elicit a few bugs, but those can be fixed, Detjen says. Very seldom does the actual software have a problem.
“The [software] may have limitations but not problems,” he says. “It’s not like they enter ‘brown’ and it comes back ‘green.’
“Most of the difficulty for veterinarians in moving on to a different software package is learning it, not user error,” he adds. “Yes, the user makes errors, but it’s because it is a learning process, not because [the veterinarians or staff] are incapable. So it’s not really the [clinic’s] fault, but it’s not the software company’s fault, either.”
To address the issue, ImproMed offers various resources, such as webinars, podcasts and onsite education, among other tools.
One’s expectations of the software play a key role in how it fits with a clinic. Detjen gives two examples:
1. “I thought I could accomplish this goal and I can’t.”
This can relate to not understanding what the software is capable of or because that technology hasn’t come out yet, Detjen says. Veterinarians can post programming requests through the company’s iCAN (ImproMed Community Access Network), he notes.
2. “I used to do it this way and now I can’t.”
Detjen says he sometimes has to remind veterinarians that the reason they bought new software is because they wanted or needed something different.
Having veterinarians expect new software to act like their old software is a familiar situation, according to Robin Brown, director of training and communications at McAllister Software Systems in Piedmont, Mo.
“Since no two programs are the same, there are always going to be differences,” Brown says.
McAllister Software Systems and ImproMed both operate as subsidiaries of Butler Schein Animal Health of Melville, N.Y.
Learning to properly use software is crucial, Brown says.
“Our advice is to take advantage of all the training opportunities that your software provider has available so you get the most efficient method on how to use this new program,” Brown says.
In addition to webinars and instructor training at the company’s headquarters, McAllister offers custom-tailored options.
“We have a lot of clinics that will call in and say, ‘We’ve been using AviMark for seven, eight, 10 years, and we find we are only using 20 percent of its capabilities,’” Brown says. “[They] want to know what [they] don’t know. So, we will work out a very detailed plan and go to their practice and train their staff to utilize all the different areas of the program.”
Tony Drake, DVM, owner and director of The Animal Clinic P.C. in Montgomery, Ala., is one example. The whiteboard feature, designed to enhance the way appointments, reservations, check-ins and scheduled activities are handled, had been part of the clinic’s software for years, but Dr. Drake’s employees never took the time to learn it because they thought it would be too complicated, he says.
“But I made up my mind this past winter that I was going to do it,” says Drake, who worked closely with McAllister Software Systems and used the company’s tutorials to learn the whiteboard feature. “Now it’s the most exciting thing about the software to me.”
Taking the time to learn the practice management software not only helps prevent a misunderstanding of what the software can do, but it also helps the practice over the long haul, Brown says.
“When you start incorporating more features of the program, the more efficient and streamlined you’re really going to be,” she says.
Looking at all of the software options on the market is advisable, Detjen says.
“There’s nothing wrong with shopping around,” he says.
Detjen recommends that veterinarians list the features most important to their clinic, but make it only half of the list. Then ask software companies what is most important in the industry. The result will be two different views, he says.
Last but not least, ask for insight from staff members—and trust them, Detjen says.
“The vet has good insight into what he needs, but trust me, so does his office manager, staff and receptionist,” Detjen says. “Those people are very important in that decision.”
Larry Keppler, controller and one of the five owners of Deer Creek Animal Hospital in Littleton, Colo., says his clinic calls upon ImproMed for simple answers, such as a receptionist needing to know how to invoice a client, but for larger issues, such as when the system is running slow, he turns to TechFarmer.
TechFarmer, an information technology solutions and management company, acts as a go-between, contacting ImproMed directly if needed and then helping Keppler and the clinic solve the issue.
Keppler says Deer Creek uses TechFarmer because the company can handle the clinic’s entire network, including hardware and software. This comes in handy because Deer Creek is a large clinic employing 75 people, he adds.
“Practice management software companies’ strong point is in their software, but their weak point is the overall gamut of information technology,” says Chris Lozing, president of TechFarmer. “Our clients have contacted us to solve problems and performance issues with PMS systems, as well as other systems.
“Interoperability is a huge piece, and integrating the PMS piece is not as simple as it sounds,” Lozing adds. “A good reminder is that PMS systems are a key part to veterinary practices. However, they are not the only key component.”
The Centennial, Colo., company has worked with more than 20 veterinary clinics over the years, according to Lozing. Although there are other general IT service providers, not many of them have veterinary-specific experience or longevity in the industry, he says.
“Many of these clients are currently set up on maintenance programs for their entire information technology needs and not just the practice management software systems,” Lozing says. “We give our clients a technology plan and assist them with anything technology related.”
Lozing’s advice: “When replacing or installing new hardware that the practice management software systems are installed to, spend extra time and effort to ensure the systems are designed for redundancy and high availability and are covered by the longest available warranty.
“It’s always best to use a tier 1 hardware provider like HP, Dell or IBM, to name a couple,” he advises. “Use qualified IT personnel or companies to stage and prepare the hardware and services before the PMS system is installed. Also, ensure that you are responsible and are verifying your own backup and disaster-recover scenarios for these servers, even if guaranteed.”