It’s a busy Monday morning – your front desk is trying to catch up with weekend messages, patient admissions, regular appointments and all the telephone lines are ringing. Then the print server decides to stop working and everything grinds to a halt.
I bet that James Herriot never had to manage a printer melt-down in his practice.
This all-too-common scenario highlights how far technology has reached into veterinary practice, and the pace and direction of these changes is likely to accelerate.
If you’re starting to feel like you need a technology degree along with your Veterinary degree, you’re not alone. How did we get here and how do we manage it all?
Successful technological advances are centered – at least at the outset – on solving existing problems. The personal computer revolution gained a foothold in veterinary medicine because it allowed us to automate reminders. Reminding clients when their pets were due for vaccine boosters was the primary driver of practice success, and technological advances permitted second and third reminders to be sent to client and helped drive practice revenue. So far, so good.
Tech advances also allowed for better, more detailed invoices to be generated, and that also helped increase practice income. Even better.
Windows-based systems changed the equation as, for the first time, keeping medical records on the computer seemed feasible. All the square feet devoted to paper records – as well as the storage and retrieval work – could be freed up for other (income-generating) purposes. It’s not a trivial process to translate paper record-keeping to an online file, and many practices still haven’t solved the myriad challenges, but the trend is unmistakable and irreversible.
Practice Management Software (PMS) promised to wrap all the capabilities of the digital world into one package. The Internet arrived early in veterinary practice. Computerized medical records demanded that digital radiography systems and in-house laboratory machines speak directly to the PMS, as there were no good alternative places to store this information for ready retrieval. Reference laboratories ramped up their interfaces to ease the upload of patient results into the medical record.
We live in the digital world today, one where everyone expects everything to available at any time, including online access to their veterinarian. What used to be a one-way push of information is now a dialogue between client and practice – laboratory results, email messages, prescription refills and other personal (or more general) medical information. Add to this environment your website, digital phone systems, social media capacity and online practice promotion and you’ve got a critical and complicated technology environment. We weren’t trained for this.
The challenges going forward are manifold:
- Managing the existing environment
- Growing your capabilities
- Financing all this…stuff.
In a small business, it’s not easy. The evolving demands of modern information technology do put smaller businesses at a disadvantage when compared to those multi-location practices than can afford in-house IT specialists.
There are a few strategies that can help you manage all this:
- Stay informed – even if you’re not ready for the next-big-thing you need to know about it. You can bet that at least some of your competitors do.
- Outsource – there are businesses that do every little piece of what you want done. The choice is to coordinate the best-in-class suppliers for each of them, or accept a suite of services managed by others and accept the inevitable compromises on quality or price.
- Stick to what you do best – not every bit of technology is right for every practice. If you’re not an early adopter by personality, wait until your practice needs and is ready for the next step. Don’t let technology degrade your clinical care and client service.
- Budget for technology upgrades every year – you may not be able to afford everything you want but you really can’t afford to fall too far behind. Regular investments in technology are a critical part of keeping your practice successful.