The Covetrus 2023 Veterinary Industry Trends survey confirmed that becoming more sustainable and paperless was a top priority for many practices. However, the aspiration to ‘go paperless’ involves a lot more than simply reducing your printing.
Instead, it entails the complete digitisation of patient records, appointments, communication, and administrative processes.
While the thought of switching from a paper-based workflow can be daunting, there are many benefits to transitioning to a digitally connected vet practice.
- Saving staff and client time
- Improving efficiency and productivity
- Reducing costs
- Reducing carbon footprint and improving the practice’s environmental impact
- Technology is the key that unlocks all these benefits and sets a practice up for future success.
Understanding the Paperless Transition
Many veterinary practices still rely heavily on paper for record-keeping, appointment scheduling, and communication. However, going paperless in a vet practice means transitioning to digital solutions for all these tasks.
This involves the use of software and technology to store patient records electronically, schedule appointments online, and use communication tools like email and messaging apps.
There are, however, some common concerns and misconceptions about going paperless in a vet practice.
These include the fear of losing data, incurring security breaches, or overloading staff with excessive change. However, with proper technology support and training, these concerns are mitigated.
Benefits of Going Paperless
Making the switch to a paperless veterinary practice offers several benefits. It helps reduce your environmental impact and cut costs by eliminating the need for paper, printing, and physical storage.
It also improves efficiencies by streamlining the processes in your practice and creating quicker access to patient records and information.
Reduced carbon footprint
One of the biggest reasons for veterinary practices to consider a switch to a paperless environment is the big reduction in their carbon footprint.
Traditional paper-based practices consume large amounts of resources, including in the production of paper and ink and the energy used in printing and transporting documents.
Digital record-keeping, can help your clinic minimise its environmental impact and lift your vet practice sustainability.
Improved efficiency and organisation
A move to a paperless veterinary practice transforms a clinic’s day-to-day operations, which leads to increased efficiency and organisation.
Digital records are accessible instantly, which provides faster access to information and enables veterinary staff to quickly retrieve patient data, history, and test results during appointments.
A digital workflow is also more streamlined, as electronic health records and practice management systems (PMS) create better coordination among staff and result in smoother operations.
The risk of misplacing or losing patient files can be virtually eliminated with digital records, which ensures that critical information is always at hand.
Enhanced accessibility of patient records via cloud-based PMS
The adoption of cloud-based PMS is a game-changer for veterinary practices.
These systems offer real-time accessibility to patient records, which makes it easier for veterinarians and pet parents to stay connected with their pets’ healthcare.
A cloud-based PMS, in particular, gives veterinarians access to patient records from anywhere there is an internet connection. This ensures that crucial patient information is never out of reach.
A PMS also lets multiple team members collaborate on a single patient’s file at the same time, which enhances communication and decision-making.
Cost savings on paper, printing, and storage
Going paperless can offer significant cost savings for veterinary practices, which can be reallocated to improve patient care and expand services. This is realised through reduced stationery costs by eliminating paper, printer maintenance, and ink purchases.
Paperless practices can repurpose their physical storage areas too. Areas that were previously allocated to filing cabinets and stationery cupboards, for example, can be freed up for other more valuable purposes.
Together, streamlined processes and reduced paper-related expenses can help reduce a practice’s overall operational costs.
Key steps to achieve a paperless veterinary practice
1. Digital record-keeping
In fast-paced veterinary clinics, instant access to patient information is critical.
Digital patient records are the cornerstone of efficient and accurate healthcare delivery, as they give a comprehensive history of a pet’s health, including medical records, diagnostic reports, and treatment plans.
With just a few clicks, veterinary staff can access this vital information and make well-informed decisions for better patient care.
This digitisation of patient records is made possible through a PMS, which acts as the central hub for all clinic operations. It seamlessly integrates patient records, appointment scheduling, billing, and more.
A PMS streamlines administrative tasks and ensures that patient records are organised, easily accessible, and secure.
2. Document scanning and storage
Transitioning to a paperless practice doesn’t mean you have to abandon your existing paper records. Scanners are essential tools that convert physical documents into digital formats for future use.
All that’s required is for paper documents like medical charts, invoices, and consent forms to be scanned and stored electronically within your PMS – ready for instant retrieval.
3. Cloud-based storage
Cloud-based storage gives easy access to digital documents from any device with an internet connection, which promotes flexibility and mobility for all veterinary staff.
Leading cloud services incorporate robust security measures and automated backups too, which ensures the safety and integrity of sensitive patient and customer data.
4. Appointment and scheduling solutions
Traditional appointment books are becoming relics of the past as digital scheduling tools take centre stage.
Integrated into a PMS, these tools offer real-time scheduling, which reduces scheduling conflicts and improves the accuracy of appointments. They also help veterinary practices optimise their appointment slots, which results in a more efficient use of staff time.
Electronic reminders are another big plus for both veterinary clinics and pet parents. For example, they help reduce no-shows by sending automated reminders for appointments, vaccinations, and follow-up visits.
5. Communication and collaboration tools
Effective communication within a practice’s veterinary team is essential for providing the best possible patient care.
Digital communication methods, like messages in Covetrus Ascend, enable team members to collaborate seamlessly. They can discuss cases, share updates, and exchange information in real-time, which directly improves coordination and patient care.
However, going paperless doesn’t only streamline internal communication – it also reduces the reliance on traditional paper-based methods.
With digital communication, there’s no need any longer for physical mail, which is less environmentally friendly and is slower than electronic communication.
Implementing a paperless strategy
Staff training and support
The success of transitioning to a paperless veterinary practice relies heavily on staff preparedness. Comprehensive training is essential to ensure that everyone on your team can use the new digital tools and workflows effectively.
Some of the key aspects are:
- Understanding new software: Staff members should be trained to use your PMS, document scanning tools, and other digital solutions. This includes navigating patient records, scheduling appointments, and accessing digital resources.
- Data entry standards: Training should also include consistent data entry standards to make sure patient records remain accurate and organised.
To facilitate a smooth transition, it’s also important your staff are given comprehensive resources and tips to help them in their day-to-day activities.
These could include:
- User manuals: Create user-friendly manuals and guides that explain how to use the software and digital tools. These resources can double as quick reference guides.
- Interactive training sessions: Interactive, hands-on training sessions are also important, where staff can learn the new tools with guidance from experts.
- Ongoing support: It’s recommended to find a provider who can provide ongoing support and maintain an open line of communication with them. Encourage staff to ask questions and seek assistance when they need it.
Transitioning an entire veterinary practice to a paperless model can be daunting.
To mitigate potential challenges and ensure a smooth transition to a new PMS, consider starting with a pilot, following these steps:
- Identify a pilot area: Select an area of your practice where you can test the paperless workflow on a smaller scale.
- Identify issues early: This approach lets you identify and address challenges early on. You can then refine your processes and make the necessary adjustments before rolling out the paperless model across the entire practice.
Gradual adoption helps you and your team to pinpoint challenges and bottlenecks that may arise during the transition to a paperless practice.
It will help make sure that staff members become comfortable with the new system at their own pace, which will reduce the potential for errors and disruptions.
Data security and privacy
When you’re going paperless in your practice, it’s critical to safeguard patient and client data. Veterinary practices should take the following measures:
- Encryption: Ensure that all patient data is encrypted during transmission and storage to protect it from unauthorised access.
- Access controls: Implement access controls and grant staff access only to the information that’s relevant to their roles.
- Compliance with regulations: Veterinary practices must comply with relevant data protection regulations and ensure their technology providers do the same. Keeping your software up to date is also important in this space.
- Regular audits: Conduct regular audits to assess your data security measures and identify any potential vulnerabilities.
While transitioning to a paperless veterinary practice brings numerous advantages, it’s important to acknowledge that some team members may be resistant to change.
1. Clear communication: Open and transparent communication is key. Clearly explain the reasons for the change and emphasise the benefits to your staff and patients.
Ensure that everyone understands the vision and goals of the paperless transition.
2. Involvement and input: Involve staff in the decision-making process as much as possible.
Encourage them to share their concerns and ideas and make them feel like active participants in the transition.
3. Training and support: Provide comprehensive training and ongoing support, including drawing on resources from your technology partner.
Ensure that staff members are confident in using the new digital tools and address any questions or concerns right away to reduce potential stress and anxiety.
4. Small wins: Acknowledge and celebrate small successes along your practice’s paperless journey.
Recognise achievements, no matter how small, to boost your team’s morale and motivation.
5. Change champions: Change champions within your practice can become superusers and inspire and motivate their colleagues.
They can serve as role models for embracing your new paperless workflow.
Technical challenges can arise during the transition to a paperless veterinary practice. Here are some common issues and how to resolve them:
Going beyond paperless: Environmental responsibility
As veterinary practices increasingly embrace paperless solutions, it’s essential to recognise the broader environmental impact and the opportunity to promote vet practice sustainability.
Here are five ways a paperless practice can contribute to environmental responsibility and additional sustainable practices:
1. Reduced carbon footprint: Going paperless significantly reduces a practice’s carbon footprint by minimising the use of paper, ink, and energy. This reduced consumption of resources is a big step towards environmental responsibility.
2. Energy efficiency: To further decrease your practice’s environmental impact, consider implementing energy-efficient steps within your clinic.
For example, invest in energy-efficient appliances and lighting, use natural lighting when possible, and implement smart temperature control systems to reduce energy consumption.
3. Waste reduction: Beyond paper, veterinary practices can take additional steps to reduce their waste output.
For example, choose eco-friendly packaging for medications and products, recycle whenever possible, and implement a waste reduction strategy.
4. Promote sustainable products: Choose sustainable and eco-friendly products when you buy your veterinary supplies. Choose suppliers and manufacturers that prioritise environmentally responsible practices.
5. Educate staff and clients: Raise awareness among your staff and clients about your practice’s commitment to sustainability.
Educate them about the environmental benefits of going paperless and encourage responsible waste disposal.
By embracing a transition to paperless, veterinary practice owners, veterinarians, practice managers, and vet nurses can adopt more sustainable practices within their clinics.
This will enhance the quality of care they provide to their patients and contribute to a more sustainable and efficient future for the veterinary profession and the planet.
Find out more about transitioning your practice to paperless
Paperless veterinary practice management software has emerged as a game-changer in the veterinary industry, and it offers many significant benefits to practice owners and managers who are looking for solutions to the challenges they are facing.