How to choose a PMS for your veterinary clinic

You’re spending many days and nights investigating the hundreds of veterinary practice management systems (PMS) to find the best one for your clinic. It can be an exhausting and all consuming time - but one that will help set up your business for success.

Here to guide you is PetsApp’s own Ricky Sussams - an Implementation Manager with over a decade's experience onboarding hundreds of clinics to the veterinary ecosystem’s many technology platforms.

He’s specifically worked on implementing new practice management systems for veterinary teams many times over. Here are some tips and tricks he recommends when looking for a new or upgrade to your current PMS.

The essential tasks your PMS needs to fulfill

Before you even begin to look for your perfect veterinary practice management system is to figure out what essential tasks you need fulfilled for your practice. For most teams, this can actually be fairly simple.

A basic requirement, but you need it to connect with your lab system. It needs to ideally be in a workflow that suits you and your team.

You’ll also need a decent reporting suite. If you want your business to thrive, you do need to make sure that you can report on those things that matter - and not what the PMS provider thinks you want to report on.

Does it connect to your preferred wholesaler? This can make re-ordering products and medication so much quicker and easier for you and your teams.

Questions to ask:

  • What are your must haves and nice to haves?
  • Think about what data you want to see from your clinic’s workflow - this could guide your decision making process
  • Who will lead the day to day management of your PMS? What are their primary objectives?

Mind the flashy sales tactics, and choose a PMS that is best for you

It can be really easy to get swept away by the pomp and circumstance of a new PMS. New buttons, dials, functions, forms that appear to be super exciting and promise the earth for the low price of a monthly fee. The trick is to not get caught up in these flashy, lovely ideas.

Let me give an example. There have been some great strides made in creating pet owner portals that clients can use to access things like patient history, or medical records. From experience - with hundreds of practices - though this sounds like a much needed improvement, it’s not something pet owners truly take advantage of. In fact, results can be quite disheartening. Customers will naturally prefer to communicate directly with the practice regarding their pet.

Health plans matter when selecting your practice management system

Your health plan is an extremely important part of your business. How you manage that health plan can make or break how it's sold in practice. If it's easy to sell, if it's easy to identify, and - importantly in this discussion - if it's then easy within the PMS to discount or add to other transactions or consults.

Your staff have to remember what benefits and services customers receive as a health plan member; fundamentally, that is what's going to help your team encourage take up amongst pet owners. Therefore it is vital to have some kind of health plan module in your practice management system.

It doesn't necessarily need to take care of the financials, but it does need to be taking care of the product delivery - such as flea and worm treatments, or vaccines.

It also needs to be able to recognize when a certain client is part of the health plan and be able to adjust the pricing accordingly, automatically. This also helps your busy clinic team, as they don't need to remember to do that off their own back.

Support - how much will your PMS provider look after you?

Something not often thought about - but never forgotten once you’ve had a bad experience - is the level of customer support you need available.

In what way are you and your team able to contact support? Here at PetsApp, we know we need to provide several methods of contact, email, phone and live chat. Each has its advantages to the person requiring support.

What do other people say about their support? You truly cannot ask enough questions, because you’d hate to be left high and dry when the time comes!

I think the most important question here is: how quickly can I get through to a human being and start having my problem resolved? Here is where you test! Say you’re comparing three unique systems - give all their free support lines a ring and see just how quickly they answer. Perhaps check this over a few times - like a Monday morning, because that's when the most problems begin.

See through the fluff

Though there are many good hearted PMS providers out there looking to help you help more pets, it’s also true that there are many out to meet their sales targets. When under pressure, some reps can massage the truth slightly - and explain how they manipulate their existing software to suit your needs.

They're going to say that, as they really want your business. They may have best intentions here, but the problem is they are talking about their existing product and how that iteration will suit you. Any changes or product updates leave any workarounds in a precarious predicament. This can have a series of unforeseen consequences later down the road.

Work with the system - don't bend the system to work with you. Interestingly, that's completely different advice from five years ago, but experience has shown that clinics creating workarounds on their PMS system were having massive issues 3 to 4 years later - and the clinic team spent a lot of time rebuilding the software to work.

Cloud, server or both? What technology should my PMS be based on?

Technology - the next thing to look at. Do you go cloud-based or do you go server based or is there a hybrid technology there? They each have their positives and negatives.

Why choose server based PMS? Well, you’ve got everything physically onsite. If you have an internet outage or a force majeure, the practice management still runs. This can save oodles of stress and allow your practice to continue running smoothly.

The downsides? Famously, this would be the ongoing support and running costs of having a server in your practice. Not to mention, you've got to find a place to put it, and you've got to connect all of your practice computers to this physical location. Finally, it can take some time to replace a broken server - at worst, you could be out of operation for up to seven days. Upgrading the software can be painful too, there will be a period of downtime and normally involves a cost.

However, the largest downside is for clinics with 2 or more locations. It takes time for each server to send data to the other (sometimes referred to as replication), and this is normally a set period of time which can be from minutes to hours. I often found that clinics could transport a patient from a branch to the hospital 15 miles away in a city centre and still beat the clinical history getting replicated to the hospital.

Why choose a cloud based PMS? Accessible anywhere, and resistant to power failures (if using laptops or mobile devices) - you’re likely to have very few interruptions with a cloud based system. It's also infinitely scalable - so as you bring new team members and clients on, you don't need to worry about upgrading your server’s capacity. Upgrading to the latest version is easy too, as this is all done for you.

Cloud’s biggest issue? Well - it’s the internet, of course. If there’s an outage, you’re going to run into a few difficulties. Yes, there are workable solutions in that circumstance - but it can be a very stressful time for you and the team.

Then of course, you've got the hybrid model which claims to be the best of both worlds - a physical server on location in case something goes wrong, and a cloud-based for every day use. But again, you've still got that ongoing support cost to the backup server.

Integrations to your clinic’s PMS

You can really get caught up into the notion that everything in your clinic needs to be integrated with your PMS. An industry secret? It really doesn't. It really, really doesn't. There are some great products out there that work beautifully side by side to your favourite systems. Integrations are great - and can be a bonus depending on your priorities - but I would not choose my practice management system based on an integration.

The only integration of note? Labs. As long as your internal lab machine connects up with your practice management system, you can go to work happy with the choice you’ve made.

Practice management system rollout and installation

Finally, one of the most important factors to consider - how well planned is the rollout? Do they have a project guide that walks you through the entire process? How well is their training delivered? How good is their data conversion record (i.e. making sure your old PMS data can be added to your new PMS). I have in my time seen some amazing conversions, where all the data has come across correctly, and I have seen some terrible ones in which the project has been abandoned on the day the practice should have gone live with their new system.

Conclusion

The most important advice to take away from this? Be true to what your clinic's needs, and let that guide your decision. You hear a lot of stories where one practice uses a particular PMS and they absolutely love it, it works beautifully for them. Then there’s another one that's using exactly the same system, but it's absolutely terrible and the staff hate it. This can be very distracting when selecting your PMS. We know that every practice works differently.

For more information, check out our free webinar recording on new practices, new services - it may have some tips and tricks of use in your journey to selecting the best systems for you.

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