How to Actually Compare Veterinary Software

Is anyone else sick of those software comparison articles with the big chart of nonspecific information? You know the ones: They usually have vague and incomparable details and often are clearly filled out by the companies sponsoring the article.

Surely no conflict of interest, right?  

And then there are those generic review websites where companies incentivize (pay) their users to leave good reviews.

We agree: Where are all the reviews from the real users of software!

Well, at Instinct we get exposed to a lot of different software systems and a common question we get is What should I look for in new software for my hospital?

When evaluating new software, these articles and sites all seem to focus on basic commodity features like price (we have an article about this), support, devices, and business features.

We agree that those are all important, especially in the short term. But we think they are missing the point. A software investment is a big deal to your organization in the long term.

Great software can transform your team, patient care, and practice operations, and it can even make your hospital more valuable to a future buyer! But switching and other associated costs are real. In the long term, the most impactful things often don’t get mentioned because they are hard for software companies to implement well, and they are hard to compare.

So here’s a simple and novel checklist you can use to compare every software decision:

The Best Veterinary Software Companies Do These 10 Things

(Ask your software provider about the following. Be sure to ask for specific examples and their thought process on why they do or don’t.)

🩺 Have at least one veterinarian on the leadership team

This is probably the most reliable upstream indicator of how successful new software will be at your organization over the long term. My opinion? The higher (or lower) the role veterinarians have in the company, the more telling.

If you hear “instead of one, we have a whole advisory board!” or “my [sister, spouse, father, aunt, cousin] is a vet!” or “it was started by a veterinarian years ago” or “we listen to our users more than anyone,” you should pause. ⛔

Software designed and run by committee and without daily domain expertise at the decision-making level is how most of our current software got to where it is.

👨‍💻 Think carefully about your hospital and client data

Data is one of the most valuable currencies out there, and even the most principled companies can be tempted. How do they protect you and your client’s data? Do they use that data in any way? Anonymized or specific? How and why?

Oh, and if software is “free” to you, this should be a giant red flag. 🚩

There is a common saying with software: If you aren’t a paying customer, then you’re actually the product.

🆕 Continuously improve their software

This is hard to extract sometimes—who doesn’t say they continuously make the software better?

But there are telling signals you can look for.

  • Ask how many developers work on the software. Are they contractors or full-time employees?
  • Was the software built by an agency or an in-house team? If an agency, is it based where the company is or in another country?
  • How do they handle quality assurance?
  • How often do new updates come out? What are some of the features planned next?

Take the answers you get and ask hospitals currently using the software what their experience has been. Are the updates meaningful and rapid? Do they work or are things constantly broken?

🧡 Help you keep your patients safe

Medical errors are getting more attention in human health and the same is coming to veterinary medicine. Good software should not only protect against unintended consequences of software in medicine, but should also enhance safety, saving money by avoiding costly lawsuits and the ensuing harm to your patients and long-lasting costs to your reputation.

How does their software help with patient safety? How do they think about the unintended consequences of technology in medicine? What safety layers are applied to new features and updates?

🏃‍♀️💨 Help your staff run like a well-oiled machine

The best veterinary software saves you money through major improvements to workforce efficiency. Many software systems do a LOT of things. But how are all those things adding up in terms of ease and simplicity for staff? How is the company thinking about that for the long term?

Start with your highest paid employees and ask how software affects their role on a daily basis. Clunky interfaces sound like a small issue but they are the most difficult for companies to change. And, when you add up minutes and clicks, these interfaces have an outsized impact on your staff.

Pull up screenshots from the software system you are evaluating and look at them side by side with your favorite non-veterinary software. Does the system you’re considering remind you of the past or the future?

💰 Help you automatically capture charges

When your software automatically captures charges, you can sometimes see an annual revenue boost of 30% or more because you’re actually charging for all services performed.

In our experience, many say they help capture missed charges. But if that's so true, why is it still such a huge industry problem?

Dig in by asking about the most common missed charges (which are the hardest to automate): exam fees, hospitalization charges, timed charges, and everything that happens during quick workups and inpatient stays.

Is there an audit tool? Is there a robust upstream digital flow sheet? Would the team want to use it?

If the workflow relies solely on humans manually putting something on the invoice at the end, missed charges will likely continue.

📚 Help you improve your team’s medicine

Look for software with built-in "decision support" that helps your team accurately deliver patient care.

Ask about reference tools at the point of care, medical warning systems, calculators, predictive algorithms that help your medical team make decisions, and even checklists.

These tools are rare in veterinary medicine, but the elite systems have them on their radar.

😊 Help with recruiting and retention

Don’t think software has the ability to help with team happiness, burnout, and retention? Think again.

Happy employees want a culture that prioritizes efficiency and lowers barriers to help them do their job.

Well-designed software can have a measurable impact on employee happiness—which means it can help with recruiting and retention, saving you money on staff turnover costs.

📊 Help you make data-driven decisions

Do they offer help with data analysis and does the software capture data in the background that can actually help?

Do they have data experts on their team? Is there a tool to help you forecast? And is it limited to financial data or are there medical and workflow data tools available?

🔨 Help you set up the software

This isn't 1995 and software doesn't need to come as a blank slate. Ask: how much will set up cost your team in work and time?

The best software companies handle the majority of data and software setup for you, asking you the right questions to customize, but also providing best practical advice and shared learning from other organizations.

The goal: spare you the phenomenon of constantly recreating the wheel.

In the end, if you run a modern veterinary practice, arguably your software is one of the key elements for your organization. It’s the lifeblood of your practice. It’s the front line of care. It sets the tone. And it determines your business’s potential more than anything. So treat it that way when making software decisions!

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