Practice management software: is your head in the clouds?

dvm360dvm360 April 2022
Volume 53
Issue 4

If you’re planning a change in technology, do your due diligence and compare programs you’re interested in with your current system



With the onslaught of cloud—based veterinary practice management software (PMS) programs that have hit the veterinary marketplace over the past 5 to 7 years, are you starting to feel your in-house clinic-based PMS system has become obsolete? And that perhaps you’re getting left in the dust? Are you worried that without going to a cloud system it will be hard for your practice to reach its full potential? Recent technology has had a major impact on veterinary medicine practice. Fifteen to 20 years ago, you may have been asked if your practice was computerized vs operating off paper charts. Today, nearly all practices utilize a PMS system, and you are more likely to be asked if your practice software runs off an in-house server (local area network) vs a cloud-based server.

The move to software delivered via the cloud has been slow but sure, and over time, it is almost certain to become the status quo. Practices that are satisfied with their current in-house clinic-based server software often question what they will gain by moving to a cloud server. Is there something unique to this software that will propel their practice(s) to the next level? Certainly, some view the move as an unnecessary expense, and there is often trepidation associated with the data conversion process. Another concern is whether a new provider will have staying power and still be in business 5 to 10 years down the road.

A trend occurring with cloud software providers is that distributors and group practices are buying them out. Some practitioners are concerned that when these companies are no longer independently owned that they may not cater to a practice’s needs as well and that customer service may suffer. A share of clinics making the jump to the cloud now do so because their current software has become obsolete and their current provider is not investing in software upgrades.

During your due diligence period, consider these questions:

  • Are medical notes easier to compose?
  • Does the program allow for printing and emailing client report cards?
  • Does it enhance administering wellness plans?
  • Does it allow for bidirectional text messaging and communications with clients?
  • Regarding client communications, are tools present that will allow you to eliminate third-party vendors that you are paying for?
  • Does it allow for true online appointment booking?
  • Can you make treatment plans with ease?
  • Does it help prevent missed charges from occurring?
  • Does it help with client flow and speed up overall client wait time?
  • Does it drive the practice flow, improve efficiency, and help reduce missed charges?

The brick-and-mortar PMS companies that dominate the market continue to enhance their products so that they interface adequately with new third-party services and technology, especially related to laboratory and imaging equipment. Practices have not left in droves to join cloud-based PMS providers to date because these main players are meeting most of the needs of their clientele.

Yes, hospital management is often intrigued with cloud based software because it is new, sexy, and appears to be the wave of the future. On close inspection, however, some discover that aside from remote access, the features are not very different from their current software. From a functionality perspective, new software may be clunkier and not run as smoothly as the current software. Reasons for this stem from how well the data from the previous program converted into the new system, programmers still working out bugs in the software, and issues with spotty internet connections.

If moving to the cloud is in your near-term plans, then take time to do your due diligence. Consider having a committee complete this process. Ideally, test drive the top 3 cloud programs that you have an interest in and compare their features and functionality to your current system.

As a starting point, cloud platforms have a few key advantages: remote access, no need to maintain your own server and local area network, and no need to stress about doing your own backups. These are not insignificant, but how important are they to your clinic? And are you willing to make a change if the features and functionality are not as good as what your current program provides?

Be careful with items that are “in the works,” such as bidirectional connectivity with reference laboratories and storage of imaging. You may be told that it is on the near completion or it is a top priority; however, many of these items can take a long time to complete because they often are dependent on cooperation from independent vendors.

In the end, is there a system that wows you, gives a good bang for the buck, and improves practice efficiency? You may find that your current system is fine and that you are better off focusing on utilizing the features your provider has developed over decades in the veterinary space.

A percentage of veterinary practices may have compelling reasons to make a change. Group practices that want to manage one software and have remote access to all locations fit into this category. Additionally, new facilities, those with unsupported PMS software, and those with early-adapter management philosophy are also good candidates. On the other hand, clinics that are happy with their PMS system and have an “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” mentality may want to leave well enough alone for the time being. In line with that, some will find it hard to ditch the management system they invested $10,000 or more into to now inherit an ongoing perpetual monthly fee that becomes another fixed cost.

More important than switching software is to have a key person or 2 on your team who knows your software system inside and out and monitors all updates. These are team members that you can send to seminars on your software and that are involved with group forums.

There is a lot of gold in most of these management systems, and most hospitals only use a fraction of the features. Maximizing the potential of your PMS system—be it clinic or cloud based—is the secret to pushing your clinic to the next level of success.

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