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Veterinarian Technician July 2009 (Vol 30, No 7)

Management Matters — Analyzing Your Software Needs

by Katherine Dobbs, RVT, CVPM, PHR, Kristen Hoffman, BSAS

    Choosing Software Upgrades Requires Input from the Entire Staff

    The available selection of veterinary practice management software is constantly changing — vendors create new products, unveil unique offerings to supplement existing products and introduce new applications to better integrate their software into the clinic setting. In light of new and updated products, it is helpful to reassess the clinic's software needs from time to time. Doctors, technicians and receptionists may all use the practice management software, so when it is time to consider adding or changing software it is useful to obtain everyone's opinion. As members of the practice team, technicians know what is lacking from current software and the ways an upgrade could benefit the practice. It is important that each department's perspective be represented to reach a balanced decision about this major investment and to ensure that any new or upgraded software is used efficiently.

    Creating Wish Lists

    The practice management needs of a veterinary hospital can vary by department, so it may be difficult to define the ideal software package. One way to determine which software options your practice needs is to focus on daily job duties. When the announcement is made that the practice is considering a software switch, have each department in the practice begin working on a "wish list." Each team member in the department can then contribute his or her ideas to the list.

    Team members should list the functions they would like the new software to offer, plus any routine frustrations they have with the current software. For example, a technician who stocks inventory may wish that the software had a better inventory control function, while another technician may list his or her frustration with a cumbersome invoicing application.

    Meeting of the Minds

    After the lists are complete, the members of each department (e.g., front office, kennel area) should meet to go over their wish list, eliminate duplicate suggestions, and glean any new ideas. The final lists from these initial meetings can then be combined during a full staff meeting.

    When the management team has consolidated and reviewed the wish lists from the staff, it can begin to compare the available software options, using the staff's problems and suggestions as a function checklist.

    Meeting With Vendors

    After the internal research is complete, vendors should be called in for demonstrations. The "bells and whistles" of individual software options may offer attractive style but no substance, so it is important to follow the staff wish list. Show the list to each vendor and find out which of your needs each system can meet. Record the success rate for each vendor, then narrow your list to the vendors that can meet the most needs. Do not let sales presentations distract you from your ultimate mission. While sales representatives want to demonstrate the most eye-catching features of their software, you need to keep your eye on the practical applications and ensure that you get the most useful system you can afford.

    Implementing Changes

    Selecting the optimal system for your practice's needs and switching software are major undertakings. They represent a substantial investment of money and time, yet the reasons for switching can be compelling, such as better patient care, more efficient capturing of charges, and, ultimately, cost savings (e.g., staff time, paper) for the practice.

    Changing systems is not a decision to take lightly, however, and the entire team needs to be involved. Each person has to use the practice management software in different ways, so everyone needs to have a voice. The more each team member is heard, the more likely he or she will be to have patience with the learning curve that comes with any integration of new technology in the veterinary practice.

    NEXT: Managing the Veterinary Laboratory

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