Make Your PIMS Work for You
Aim high when shopping for a new practice software system, but keep your expectations in check and prepare your team for the necessary adjustment period.
So, you need to pick a new practice information management system, huh? I get it. You’re opening a veterinary practice, or you’re buying an existing clinic and you (or your new team members) hate the current PIMS. Or maybe your servers are old and you’re excited about another software system’s unique features. Or perhaps you’re just a trendsetter.
No matter how smooth a switch in practice software is — from nothing to something new or from something familiar to something wildly different — it means change. And change is hard, even when you’re excited about it. You and your team have specific ways of doing things, and software will ease some tasks but require everyone to adjust (even a little) how they do things.
That’s the bad news: Learning new software comes with hiccups. But let’s be realistic, said Chris Lutz, a senior vice president with the client communication app VitusVet. “Most practices don’t consider changes unless they’re forced to,” he said.
The good news? New software can be fun, open your practice to new possibilities, and over time, cure the headaches plaguing your processes, profit line and patient care.
I’d rather you focus on the good news, so hospital owner, associate veterinarian, practice manager or veterinary technician, let’s get in the right mindset and ask the right questions when you sort through the handy-dandy PIMS profiles found at bit.ly/TVB-PIMS. That’s because the journey isn’t about checking a few boxes. It’s about digging into what you, your team and your clients need and want.
What Do You Want Your Practice Software to Do?
Some practice software systems offer not just transaction and electronic medical records management but also financial reports, data analytics, outgoing and incoming client communication tools, marketing features, and wellness plans. Some permit payment processing and online appointment booking. Some integrate with other software, apps and medical equipment to do these things, and some try to manage everything from within a single software suite.
Which is better: Getting everything from one software solution or getting the best solutions from a mix of providers specializing in particular fields? There isn’t one answer.
Many users prefer all-in-one solutions. However, Martin Traub-Werner, who worked with veterinarians and software companies as the founder of the data analytics company VetSuccess and is now an executive with prescription services provider Vetsource, pitches the joy of multiple providers.
“Some people don’t want to switch to a different window or screen [to do different things],” he said. “But if you want some of the newest, most innovative thinking, it will likely require switching devices.”
Sit down and ask yourself: What does your practice software do today that’s important? What do you wish new software would do tomorrow? It’s true that you likely can’t have everything on your wish list or that you don’t want to pay extra for every bell and whistle, but you can be intentional and thoughtful about the big changes you desire in protocols and processes.
“Ask yourself, ‘What are my goals and objectives?’” said Lutz, from VitusVet.
The software should serve your vision for your hospital.
You wondered what you want from practice software. Well, what do your coworkers think?
“There’s a difference between people,” Lutz said. “And given all the capabilities of today’s software, consider what everybody needs the new software to achieve. The veterinarian wants great medical records. The practice manager might be looking for better invoicing and inventory management.”
If you’re collaborative — you are, right? — ask your team members to explain their struggles and successes with your current software.
There is no unicorn software system that does everything that everyone wants (and perfectly). Still, before signing on the dotted line, you can get closer to what you need by surveying everyone who uses your current PIMS.
Does It Absolutely and Unquestionably Need to Do That?
You heard about a cool new feature, or you talked with a sales rep about it, or you dreamed up something your new system needs to do. Will you pay anything and give up anything to make it so?
“You push all your chips to one side,” Lutz said, alluding to a hyperfocus on a single feature, much like a big bet at a casino. “But ask yourself, ‘What am I sacrificing to get that?’”
Ask around: Are you sure the feature is available only in one system on the market? It’s OK to fall in love with the unique look of a software system or a feature, but don’t lose sight of the big picture. Another system might do something similar or look similar but come in at a lower cost or with features you hadn’t considered.
How Much Change Is Involved?
Everybody understands that switching software requires changes. But how many changes are too many? “A common fear we hear is that adopting new technology creates additional work for the team,” Lutz said.
But what about the opportunity of long-term improvements in medical outcomes, financial results, and client and team member happiness?
If you are concerned about how a particular PIMS might change the workflow at the front desk and in exam and treatment rooms, ask the question upfront. Some providers will personalize the software to match your practice’s workflow. Others present compelling reasons for changing your workflow to improve patient care, staff efficiency or financial results. And some providers might say in the nicest possible way, “You need to change, and we’ll help you learn to do it.”
Veterinary teams are full of routine lovers and change lovers. Figure out what everybody can tolerate in the short term as they adjust to the new long-term solution. Be understanding and accept a bit of complaining from folks used to doing things one way. Demand that the software provider sell your team (and you) on how things will be better tomorrow after a few annoying changes today.
How Important Is Technical Support to You?
Every PIMS company promises troubleshooting and customer service. You likely can call people on the phone, maybe do a webchat and definitely email the software provider.
But what is the relationship like after you sign the contract? You can either trust what companies say about how they’ll be there for you or you can ask colleagues about their experiences. Have the company provide the names and contact information of practice teams that started from scratch with the software or switched to it. How fast and thoroughly were technical problems resolved, questions answered and new functions implemented?
As for technical support, you’ll want someone who understands your unique business situation, said Stacee Santi, DVM, the CEO and founder of the software company Vet2Pet.
“I want someone who is going to be easily accessible and understands my problem,” she said, “and I don’t want to explain it to someone who has no idea what it’s like to work in a veterinary hospital.”
Will You Check in on Your System Regularly?
Practice software is not about “set it and forget it,” according to Lutz. You revisit your medical protocols regularly, right? Someone at your practice is responsible for checking on equipment maintenance. Do the same for the technology behind your client marketing, electronic medical records, transactions and data.
“The most forward-thinking practices seem to take stock each year,” Lutz said. “They make sure that they’re both up to date and not overpaying.”
Hold on. That doesn’t mean you’re going to switch your practice software every year. Just check on whether you see the expected results, ask your team members what they think, and explore how the cost compares with older or newer products on the market.
Purchasing a software system is a big decision. You won’t be wrong if you feel overwhelmed or dread making the move. Take a breath and find ways to be excited. Think about how a new PIMS can improve your world. See what’s out there. Enjoy the next step.
Brendan Howard has been writing about veterinary technology, business and management for more than 14 years. He earned a master’s degree in English literature from the University of California, Riverside.
YOUR GUIDE TO PIMS SYSTEMS
Click here for a free PDF profiling 25 practice information management software (PIMS) systems.
UPDATES, UPDATES, UPDATES
Once upon a time, updates to server-based practice software had to be done in person using physical media. Now, just about every device we have asks us to set up automatic updates, usually during off-hours.
The updates seem to happen all the time, which is a good thing, said Stacee Santi, DVM, the founder of app builder Vet2Pet.
“These should be constant slow releases, not every one to two years,” Dr. Santi said.
Technology is constantly changing. You should expect your software to do the same. The problem, of course, is the slim possibility that an update’s download and installation could fail or take longer than expected, bleeding into your hospital’s open hours.
If you’re worried about the risk, ask your providers whether they recommend manual (your choice) or automatic (set it and forget it) software updates. Also, ask them to explain their recommendations and whether your system will be offline during an update.