Why technology is your friend


This practice cut labor costs and improved efficiency by investing in practice software.

The year was 1999. As President Bill Clinton's term wound down, the world worried about the Y2K bug. While many Americans stocked up on bottled water, canned goods, and even firearms, rumors flew about just what would happen at midnight on January 1. Would government computers crash? Would missiles accidentally launch? As we found out, most of the speculation was unfounded. But for Dr. Christine Stevenson, her concerns led to a smart business decision-one that would pay dividends in her veterinary clinic for years to come.

 Dr. Stevenson, owner of Pinnacle Peak Animal Hospital in Scottsdale, Ariz., knew it was time for a practice software upgrade. Not only was she concerned about the Y2K effect on her practice's computers, she had grown tired of the outdated DOS system the machines used. So after a long search, Dr. Stevenson found a newer, more advanced practice software system that would work for her hospital. But even after all her research, Dr. Stevenson couldn't predict the effect that technology would have on the practice. And Dr. Stevenson's not alone. Most practices use a computer system for electronic invoicing, scheduling appointments and reminders, and marking up product pricing. And 62 percent of the practices we surveyed said saving time and improving efficiency were the top benefits of technology. Read on to find out how to make practice software work for you.


While the thought of installing a whole new software system may seem daunting, rest assured it won't suck up all your time and energy. In fact, according to Dr. Stevenson, the transition was virtually seamless. In her case, the software company sent a representative to help train the staff for two days. Day-to-day operations continued during this time, and the representative stepped in to assist with certain software tasks as needed. “It was painless,” Dr. Stevenson says. “We basically transferred all our data and were up and running.”


Maybe you're still working on ancient computers. Or maybe you have a modern practice software system in place, but you're not taking full advantage of it. Here are the top three ways software can improve practice efficiency, according to Dr. Stevenson.

Fewer missed charges. Dr. Stevenson prints a daily audit trail, which a team member then reviews. At first, Dr. Stevenson worried that the number crunching wouldn't be worth the time it took the team member to perform the task. “But we've found that she pays for herself by capturing some of our missed charges,” she says. The biggest missed charge at Pinnacle Peak: fecal samples the team sends to a laboratory. Clients would drop the samples off at their leisure, often without being charged. Clients now pre-pay for the samples, which, along with increasing compliance, has earned the practice around $200 a month.

Smarter scheduling. You probably have times during the day when business is slow and team members stand around, looking for something to do. You can minimize this by using practice software. Dr. Stevenson analyzed the practice's appointment schedule and found that Friday evenings and Monday mornings tended to be the busiest times. The practice now schedules an extra doctor during those times, and instead of referring unscheduled cases to 24-hour clinics, doctors at Pinnacle Peak can take care of patients themselves.

Improved inventory control. Inventory reports are an invaluable tool for veterinary practices. Dr. Stevenson analyzes how quickly items are sold to determine how often to order those items. Her goal is for products to sit on the shelves no longer than one-and-a-half months. This maximizes cash flow and prevents valuable inventory from gathering dust. Dr. Stevenson also creates purchase orders with the software to send directly to product distributors. All told, Dr. Stevenson says the new system has cut down on inventory-related labor costs by 75 percent. “It took a little while to work out the kinks and to get comfortable with the system,” Dr. Stevenson says. “But now we're not missing things when we need them and we're not overstocked.”


As with most technology, practice software will require continual effort to keep it up to date. Most software companies will send regular updates, either annually or quarterly. It's up to you to make sure your team is comfortable with the software-whether you train them yourself or request a representative from the company to re-train employees. Dr. Stevenson prefers the latter, which provides an outside opinion on how the team can improve. “I think it's important to train periodically to gain tips and ideas for things can be done better,” she says. “We also learn how other practices are using their software.”

Next up for Pinnacle Peak Animal Hospital: electronic medical records. The practice installed the system nearly a decade ago, but is just now preparing to make the leap to paperless. And that's what practice software is all about, Dr. Stevenson says: It's always a work in progress. “It's a daily fight to improve yourself,” she says. “It takes time to implement the system and evaluate its effectiveness.”

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