Veterinary practices often have thousands of patient medical records to maintain and update, which can be challenging. They also need to schedule patients and employees, track inventory, access radiology images and much more. Fortunately, there are numerous software packages specifically tailored to veterinary practices, with varied features for different needs. A 2012 article from Veterinary Practice News, Do Homework before Making a Software Commitment, states that 80 to 90% of practices use management software, with more than half of them changing providers at least one time. The investment can exceed $30,000, the article says (and, remember, that was in 2012), when “add-on modules, hardware and peripherals are factored in.”
If you’re ready to choose your software package, the challenge of course is selecting the right one for your specific practice. The Veterinary Practice News article offers guidance, including this list about what’s important; software should:
- provide a long-term payoff
- be flexible enough to meet your practice’s specific needs
- be as easy to use as possible
- save time, “increasing revenue and helping to reduce human error”
- come with good customer service when you need training or help with problems
“Selecting the right software,” it reads, “can mean the difference between a smooth transition and daily frustration.”
Considerations in Choosing
Packages often have the same basic functions, but differ in some areas. So, what’s right for one practice isn’t necessarily for another. Consider making a list of what’s crucial for you to have and what you’d like to have that is negotiable. The goal is to find software that includes all of the have-to items and as many of the desired list as possible, without having too many extra features that you don’t need (and therefore unnecessarily costing you more money).
When you make your list, don’t have just one person in the practice do so. Ask everyone in the practice, as each person has different job functions and/or preferences. Consider asking other veterinarians what they use – and what they think about their choices.
Here are additional questions to consider:
- Do you hope to keep your current hardware? If so, how practical is that?
- Are you using Windows or a Mac?
- Are you planning to use a physical server or a cloud-based option? One downside to a physical server: if a fire or other natural disaster occurs, all of the data can be lost, so you’ll want to plan a backup system (which may very well be cloud based). With a cloud-based system, data can be retrieved from remote locations with Internet connections, making backup and disaster recovery easier – but even the best cloud-based systems are more susceptible to hacking.
One way to get started is to use Capterra.com’s list of veterinary software package options. There are currently 67 options listed (although that number will likely fluctuate) and you can filter the list presented to you by number of users. If there will only be one user, choose that from the scrollbar and Capterra will show you how many packages are suitable (currently 37). Or, if you are purchasing software for a large corporate system, you can choose 1,000 or more users, and Capterra shows you the 24 packages that can accommodate that number of users. Of course, there are several other user-number options between one and one thousand.
If you are set on either a web-based or installed system, you can filter for that. Plus, you can click on options that are important to you; options include appointment management, inventory management, prescription labeling and much more. As just one theoretical example, if you will have 10-49 users and want a web-based system that handles appointment management, billing and invoicing, image storage, inventory management and patient records, there are currently 19 choices to review. You can then click on ones that interest you to go to their websites for more detailed information.
As another option, an April 2015 blog post by DirectCapital.com lists 50 of the best tools and technology platforms for veterinarians. Note that these are not listed in any particular order, but you can scan through bulleted points about each one and click to get more information about ones that appeal to you.
Managing Challenges with the New System
No matter how carefully you review software packages before you make a choice, the transition can still come with headaches. On occasion, the software itself is defective, having bugs that can usually be addressed. The problems usually occur, though, because of a learning curve – perhaps because not enough training was offered or, if offered, hasn’t yet been completed.
Other times, expectations of the new system weren’t met. To help avoid this, be sure to carefully select the package, asking for references and talking to veterinary practices using it. Ask the references what they like about the software, as well as what they don’t; how long it took to feel comfortable using it; and whatever other questions you have. Try to elicit specific anecdotes by asking them to share the most challenging day with the software and the best, favorite features and ones never used.