PIMS – Choose Wisely

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Distributor reps have a role to play in helping veterinary practices choose what practice management systems – and compatible digital tools – are best for them.

Nancy Dewitz has been working with veterinary practices for a little over 30 years. She started in the veterinary space with Advanced Veterinary Systems, which was purchased by IDEXX, where she spent 20 years.

Consulting with practices since 2010, she launched her own business in 2019 because of what she saw happening in veterinary practices when it came time for them to decide on the right practice information management system (PIMS). “From sales to training and all the way through, I saw what it did to practices,” she said. “It was a very emotional purchase.”


The practice management software touches every portion of the hospital, Dewitz said, from the kennel staff to the front desk and everyone in between. “People learn what they know, and they get comfortable with it,” she said. “If you change out an X-ray system, it’s going to affect a few people in the hospital. If you change out a surgery instrument, it’s going to affect a few people in the hospital. But when you change out that practice software, it affects every single person in that hospital. So that’s how it becomes emotional. It’s emotional individually, and it’s emotional collectively.”

While it may be impossible to take the emotion out of a veterinary practice’s PIMS-related purchases, experts whom Veterinary Advantage talked to said distributor reps can play a key role in helping veterinary teams sift through the available solutions, identify their needs, and properly vet technology vendors.

A little history

Twenty years ago, PIMS were essentially a one-time investment that veterinary clinics made, with the occasional upgrade. There were a handful of options to choose from. The earliest versions were primarily used for invoicing. They kept track of some minimal animal medical history, such as vaccination dates and visits.

Today, PIMS can touch nearly every facet of the veterinary clinic. “It used to be you would use the data from PIMS to print out a reminder list or labels and then send off your postcards,” said Christine Merle, strategic alliance manager, Penn Veterinary Supply. “Well, now you have text and email to go with your postcards. You have other ways of communicating, and you’re not only going to do it once a year, but you’ll also do it more frequently. So, you now have other pieces that either are plug-ins or new services and tools that are more customized to the practice.”

Veterinary clinics can now dive much deeper into data and track things beyond just an invoice, such as compliance and health metrics. “You now have bloodwork data coming in, you have X-rays being stored there, and you have messages and communications being stored. It’s becoming a lot more of something that isn’t just a one and done, but kind of an overarching system. What do we need to maintain our practice, not only from the medical side and the financial side, but now you’re getting into the client engagement as well.”

Dewitz thinks of the evolution in terms of connectivity. And that evolution started back in the early 2000s, with programs developed to connect the front desk with the exam room and make workflows more efficient. Now PIMS and their connected programs have entered into the client experience, whether it’s linking pet owners to their pet’s medical records or making it easier to communicate with the veterinary practice. PIMS can house medical information for the practices as well as facilitate educational information disbursement. “Their primary focus today is still to gather the information necessary to treat the animal. With all that information being digital, it makes it easier to then use digital to relay the education. Certainly, in the early days, they kept track of invoices and reminders. Today they are a complete medical data system if a clinic chooses to use it that way.”

From concept to reality

As an emergency veterinarian, Mark Olcott, DVM, often found himself at wit’s end with the lack of visibility into clients’ medical records. For many years, he was especially frustrated with the lack of after-hours medical record access. “I was having patients die from this,” he said. “I was having clients spending a lot of money – in many cases, money they didn’t have – repeating tests that had already been done. But because their vet was closed, and it’s now 9 p.m. on a Friday night and their dog wasn’t better, guess what I had to do? I had to repeat all that stuff at emergency clinic prices.”

Olcott would eventually co-found VitusVet, a veterinary practice management solution that fully integrates with leading PIMS. The idea for VitusVet actually grew out of a business school project from an entrepreneurship class he took. Olcott wanted to develop an app that allowed pet owners to tap into their veterinarian’s PIMS and pull out the meat of the record, the kind of information that would be valuable for emergency veterinarians at 2 a.m. He knew it was an idea consumers would be interested in, especially younger pet owners. “Their thinking is, ‘I can FaceTime a friend in Australia, so how come I can’t see my cat’s X-ray on my smartphone?’”

VitusVet is not practice management software. The company has chosen to optimize digital tools veterinarians can use for connection, such as appointments, requesting refills, etc. One of its new tools, VetShipRx is a collaboration with Penn Veterinary Supply to give veterinarians a DoorDash-like app to connect with clients who have existing prescriptions. “We saw an opportunity in the marketplace where practices don’t want to keep sending clients to existing online pharmacies,” Olcott said. “Those pharmacies take a huge chunk of revenue. I would argue that they weaken the connection with clients themselves. The model in veterinary medicine has always been that we want to see you once or twice a year as a client. But are you sure you want to send them somewhere else to buy medications, or flea and tick renewals? No, because every time you send clients somewhere else, that thread weakens.”

VitusVet built VetShipRx as a way to help the local practice create an Amazon-like experience, complete with home delivery, but where it’s the veterinary practice that is strengthened, because it’s their in-house inventory going out the front door.

Make a list

In order for a veterinary practice to fully utilize a new PIMS or digital tool, the practice must have a firm grasp of its current capabilities. The first step in figuring out which PIMS-related product or service is best for the veterinary practice team is truly helping them understand their needs, wants, and what’s important to them, Dewitz said. Most veterinary practices are probably only utilizing 60% of their PIMS’ features, she said. “Now, is that good or bad?” Dewitz asked. “I don’t know that they need to be utilizing more, but it’s there for them. A lot of times they don’t realize it’s there.”

Dewitz guides veterinary practices through a list-making process. What do they have today? What do they feel they’re missing? They’ve obviously experienced some issues within the hospital, so it’s important to interview the staff to better identify the core problem. “Sometimes I find the issue is a new person has come into the hospital with experience in something else,” she said. “So, they either point out holes in the current system, or they’re uncomfortable with a new product and they may be trying to sway leadership to change products, when that’s really not necessary. But there’s usually a core problem as to what starts the process. Then it’s a matter of figuring out what they need.”

Dewitz has a category in her process called deal breakers. “If the system or product can’t do this, they’re out of the running,” she said. “Large universities do a request for proposal, and that’s sort of the process I go through with my practices in developing that list, so that when we go out to the vendors for bids, we can do basic research to check off some boxes and narrow things down. But then we get into the nitty gritty in making things as much as possible an apples-to-apples comparison because that’s how you’re going to get away from that bright, shiny effect and take the emotion out of it. When it becomes a checklist, it’s no longer emotional.”

During the list-making process, veterinary practices will come to realize a lot of the bright, shiny PIMS products or plug-ins may not actually fit their needs. “I tell practices all the time, just because Software A has 5 million features, and Software B only has 10 features, if those 10 features are the most important thing and do everything you need them to do, that software is OK for you,” Dewitz said.

It’s important to be thorough in evaluating products. Dewitz has seen some veterinary practices rush to purchase a product only to realize they don’t have connectivity to their lab equipment, because they didn’t factor that in. “They just saw some feature that looked great and made a change. Now they’re in worse shape than they were. You don’t want to put the cart before the horse.”

Illustration of using a PIMS on a tablet.
PIMS conversations with veterinary clinics should be guided by their pain points.

Matching customers with vendors

Merle said that when deciding which vendors to partner with and connect customers to, Penn Vet looks for common values and a common belief in who the customer is and what the needs of the customer are. “We are an independent, family-owned, privately-held company – we like to work with people that are similar to us, with a focus on the independent veterinary practices. That’s who we feel we serve. This isn’t to alienate anyone, but we believe there are a lot of independents who may not be getting the support they need. So we really try to focus on that customer.”

The other piece Penn Vet looks at is the technology company’s long-term investment in their system or solution. What are their plans? Is it to remain with a single product? Do they want to add more services, features, and benefits? How does the solution get packaged, and how is it being delivered? “Then I think a lot of it does come down to relationships,” Merle said. “Is there a commonality in how we want to work together, and what each of us can bring to the table?”

Olcott said one of the great things about working with Penn Vet is that the distributor is always looking for ways to bring added value to veterinary practices, “way beyond what I call donuts and discounts,” he said. When Olcott ran his own practice, he was in charge of inventory, so he’s been in thousands of vendor meetings. Rather than features and benefits, successful conversations are guided by the veterinary practice’s pain points.

“Practices are busy, especially now with COVID,” Olcott said. “They’ve got a long list of things they probably should do. But what are your top two or three problems, and how can I help you with them? Saving your pharmacy, driving a better connection with your clients via digital tools… Those are… morphine-level pains for practices, especially when you have people in your rearview mirror like some of these online behemoths that are coming after your pharmacy and your relationship with clients. Practices don’t have three years to figure this out. Online retailers are going to own your pharmacy.”

Full circle

Matching customers with the right solution is a learning process, Merle said. Practices need to resist the urge to look at PIMS like they would other products. “Let’s look at what your needs are and then build out what your expectations would be before you go look for those items. I think that’s where our discussions in the last two years have been very helpful, because throughout COVID we spent a lot of time in a much more consultative situation with practices. So, we’ve been asking them what’s going on, where their pain points were, and what are their needs? Not necessarily going in and saying, ‘Hey, here’s this new, bright, shiny thing – you want to buy it?’ But listening to them.”

During the early days of the pandemic, Penn Vet had many reps doing what Merle called “Lend a Hand.” The reps were in the practices to lend a hand, whether it was walking to clients in the parking lot to deliver invoices or helping assist front staff with administrative duties. They were an extra set of hands for the veterinary practices, and were able to experience their pain points firsthand, which they could help address in follow-up conversations, and even connect the practice with an appropriate technology vendor.

Indeed, with PIMS’ discussions, what’s old is new again for distribution reps. “If you go back to when there were more distributors and didn’t have so many individual manufacturers with representatives advising clinics, the distributor was THE resource for so many different things in the practice. Veterinary clinics relied on their distributors for information, service support and consultation. The distributor was the best resource because they were visiting several different practices, they often represented competing companies and they shared ideas that would benefit the practice.”

People gradually just saw distribution as a logistics company. But COVID, if anything, has proven the value reps provide as a resource and consultant who can talk about a wide range of products and services, is willing to listen, and able to connect clinics with vendors that they may not have been aware of. “So, to me, it’s a full circle of what a distributor was and now is,” Merle said. “It’s just technology has amplified the need for that distributor to be a more well-rounded resource.”

 

Photo credit: istockphoto.com/Varijanta

Photo credit: istockphoto.com/Varijanta

 

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