With new software and equipment always on offer, finding the right strategy to adopt for when to update —and when not to—can be an on-going dilemma for practice owners, writes John Burfitt.
There is hardly a week that goes by in our thoroughly modern age without an announcement about a new piece of technology, a breakthrough app or advanced software that promises to make life in the clinic much easier for all. And for the small business owner, those announcements are usually met with a series of key questions.
The information-overloaded consumer, who may have only updated all the front desk operating systems a few months ago, can be left scratching their head as they wonder what these even-newer developments are, what they can do and whether they apply to their own business. And the next question is often—can I afford it? That is especially the case if the business is only half way through the payments on the last round of updates.
“We have technology on all sides—for medical procedures, surgical procedures, and business operating procedures—and in all cases they’re moving ahead so very quickly that often within 12 months, the previous technology has been superseded,” says Dr Peter Higgins, a lecturer in the faculty of veterinary science at The University of Sydney. “It’s little wonder people are often not sure what approach to take with technology because it is changing so rapidly. I understand it when some clinicians and practice owners avoid making the bigger, strategic decisions.”
An example of the reaction to new technology came earlier this year with a survey by computer software giant Spiceworks. The report, conducted among 500 European and North American IT specialists, found 73 per cent were ready to deploy the new Microsoft Windows 10 system within their companies in the coming two years.
While the IT specialists get excited by the latest innovations and are quick on the uptake, Dr Higgins believes most veterinary practices need to take a more measured approach to reviewing clinic and business technology. “A technology audit should be done on a yearly basis, as that’s the only way you can keep up with all the things on offer,” says Dr Higgins. “And that doesn’t necessarily mean, however, you have to change on a yearly basis. It just means you need to have a working knowledge of what the latest advances are so that you can make an informed decision.”
Helping veterinary clinics make informed decisions regarding their strategies for technology is one of the roles Yolanda Gerges of Melbourne consultancy Identity has been undertaking for 11 years.
Gerges also believes an annual review of technological needs should be implemented as a business standard, but adds that all clinicians and practice managers need to adopt an approach of constant education towards technology.
“Creating a culture where team members are encouraged to read and learn more about the latest approaches in technology as well as identifying how such technology can allow the practice to ‘work smarter, not harder’ is a really important element to bring into the practice,” she says. “It ideally shouldn’t be something you just leave waiting until the next time you do a review or get a consultant in to talk to you about it, but an attitude ingrained in the way the practice works. Adopt an attitude where you ask yourself what are all the areas that can be automated to free up the day in order to focus on the care of patients. Then ask what technology is out there to help achieve that?”
Even in the best-run practices, sometimes team members haven’t been given the adequate training or resources to use that technology properly. Gerges tells of one recent consultancy visit where she discovered the highly-qualified practice manager filing everything on the computer desktop. “You can buy the very latest in technology, but if your staff doesn’t know how to use the equipment due to fear or lack of knowledge, then it is a waste of time and money. Invest in the right technology and in your team to know how to use it well so that your practice can benefit,” she says.
The financial realities of updating technology must be the key before any shiny new equipment is shipped in and still-functioning equipment taken away, says Cameron Young, Business Manager of Victoria’s Peninsula Vetcare. “No business has enough money to buy all the toys they want or that have been put before them,” he says. “So it has to become a matter of taking a serious look at what technology or equipment is going to give the best return on investment, so that it is all worth it.
“The questions need to be asked—is this going to give us a competitive advantage and is this really going to improve efficiency? With that, it comes down to doing a cost-to-needs analysis and then narrowing that down to what can we really afford to invest in, as well as what can’t afford not to invest in, because you could be losing a whole lot of efficiency by not updating technology.”
The Small Animal Specialist Hospital in North Ryde, Sydney recently installed a new MRI machine in its hospital. The decision to do so, explains Dr James Radecki, was not based on an annual review date on the calendar, but recognising that technology and equipment would allow the most efficient use of time for staff and patients.
“There has been such a positive reaction as it means we have the equipment that can give the best diagnostic information and has also lead to greater efficiency and productivity,” he says. “There is no point in buying any new technology and equipment if it is not going to lead to real improvements in the way the hospital runs and the way we care for patients.
“A fault I have seen in some other vet hospitals is they buy the latest, shiny new equipment, but don’t pay attention to the staffing that goes with it. We have staff who have been trained to use the new machine, as well as suppliers on hand to give direction. Investment in a consultant to assist in the acquisition of large capital items will cost, but it can pay off.”
Making time to attend to the matters of technology is an essential that, Dr Peter Higgins insists, can no longer be ignored with the excuse that it is too overwhelming or time consuming. “Any veterinary practice not taking seriously the way they work with new technologies is likely to go out the door backwards,” he says. “They are not going to survive in the climate we are now all working in. Make time, have a plan, review it and work it into the annual budget. And when in doubt, talk to the new graduates coming through as they are being trained at university in
the latest technology. Technology is a very good argument for employing a new graduate in your clinic.”