Clint Latham, JD
Director of Veterinary Data Security, Lucca Veterinary Data Security
Veterinary practice management systems (PIMS) have become an indispensable part of the day-to-day experience for veterinary practices. This software is designed to help practices and teams carry out critical tasks (eg, records, storage, appointment scheduling), streamline and automate workflows, and remove monotonous and redundant efforts that can reduce practice productivity.
With many options to choose from, it is important to have an idea of the factors to look for when selecting a PIMS. The primary distinction between available platforms is whether they are on-premise, where the data is stored on a local server, or cloud-based, where the data is stored in the cloud. Each type requires different considerations with regard to capabilities, security, compatibility, and user experience.
Why You Should Consider Migrating to a Cloud-Based Platform
A PIMS is supposed to make it easier to store electronic records, reduce errors, save time, and process reimbursements. Chances are you already have an on-premise PIMS that does that job quite well. On-premise data centers and local area networks have typically been the default solutions for veterinary practices with IT infrastructure; however, the past few years have seen a shift in how IT infrastructure is set up, especially for small- and medium-sized veterinary practices. Many practices have historically chosen on-premise PIMS configurations due to the idea of complete control of the system, personalized customizations, and security. However, on-premise systems also have some downsides that should be kept in mind, including higher costs for in-house servers and storage, inefficiencies in hardware, limited scalability in configurations, and less accessibility of the system (especially if there is a distributed work force).
Cloud-based PIMS have gained traction with veterinary practices looking for a more cost-saving, secure, highly scalable, and reliable solution. Cloud-based systems can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection regardless of geographic location. In contrast, on-premise platforms store the data on a local server and require access to that server and compatible hardware for the data to be useful. In addition, some on-premise systems are built for modern hardware and may not integrate with older computer systems. Cloud-based systems are less dependent on hardware but require reliable internet access and updated browsers and software.
Unfortunately, veterinary practices looking to migrate their PIMS to a cloud-based platform are faced with a fair amount challenges that often inhibit any momentum for making a change. Outright, financial costs beg the question if the returns will be worth the effort. From there, the list propagates to include adoption resistance, skill shortage, lack of strategy, and staffing problems. In addition, a recent study showed that veterinary practices tend to retain their PIMS for many years and prefer to avoid changing platforms due to these challenges.1
For veterinary practices ready to explore whether migrating to a cloud-based system is right for them, utilizing the following guide may be beneficial. A stepwise approach to evaluating and implementing these potential changes will serve to simplify and streamline the process.
Capabilities to Consider When Choosing a Cloud-Based Platform
The preliminary phase of the cloud immigration process should include weighing the costs, risks, and benefits to assess and compare how a cloud-based platform impacts your veterinary practice and how it differs from a current on-premise IT infrastructure or even paper-based, non-digital processes for practices adopting a PIMS for the first time.
Operational & Capital Budget
Veterinary practices looking to make a change should consider the cost of support and maintenance of migrating and should evaluate the cost differential between current and contenting PIMS. There are likely significant operational and budgetary benefits practices may gain from switching to a cloud-based solution.
As compared with other options, the costs associated with a cloud-based system are often less expensive. When practices migrate to cloud-based platforms, the support and maintenance of the PIMS and operational line items (eg, inventory costs, maintenance costs, hardware and software upgrades) are handled by cloud platform providers and, in most cases, are not billed or are cheaper than on-premise IT infrastructure; this means migrating to cloud services can help reduce your budgeted overhead and boost the bottom line of your practice.
Anticipating Future Needs
Technology changes rapidly, evolving over time to adapt to the needs of the user. Cloud-based PIMS are able to automatically implement changes when future needs arise. On-premise PIMS configurations, on the other hand, require staff to manually upgrade their systems and programs. Because most practices spend years with the same PIMS, an agile, easily updated software platform that can evolve with the practice is desirable.
Data protection for clients is something the government and the public at large take seriously in the current cyberspace. Laws like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA; in effect in several states besides California) protect practices as third-party clients of PIMS providers. Veterinary practices evaluate whether the system and any supporting communication capabilities are GDPR-compliant before deciding on a PIMS. Any PIMS is a central hub of data between your practice, your clients, and the PIMS provider. Clients expect the veterinary clinic to protect their data as best they can; the same should be expected from a PIMS provider.
PIMS Security Features
In recent years, veterinary practices have fallen victim to cybercriminals looking to compromise and steal data for monetary compensation. The cyberattacks have not spared PIMS providers. Cloud-based PIMS will be less vulnerable to localized breaches (eg, if a staff member clicking on a phishing link) due to its encryption and the IT security offered by the PIMS provider. Veterinary practices should consider whether they are able to take on data security themselves or if a cloud-based provider could provide additional benefit by potentially supplying this service.
Integration with Other Software
Most veterinary practices use some form of accounting, automation, client communication, laboratory, digital radiology, and payment software. Practices with a basic IT infrastructure looking to acquire a PIMS should make sure the service offers integration with some of the practice’s most-used software and medical devices.
Most veterinary practices looking to migrate to cloud-based platforms already have on-premise PIMS that are either desktop-only software or client-server software. Therefore, they are most likely not looking to overhaul the entire systems they use. They will need a cloud-based PIMS that can export the data they currently have, with almost all functions they currently use. That is why many veterinary practices consider cloud-based solutions that are very similar to what they already have. Make sure to get in writing the data that can be imported from your current PIMS to the new PIMS. This will prevent a situation in which both the old and new systems would need to be kept running in order to access all the necessary data for the practice.
Data Loss & Prevention Policy
Data loss can occur for many reasons, including the most obvious ones such as fire, water damage, hacking, and ransomware attacks. When this happens, the normal operations of the practice should not be hindered due to the loss of data. Only PIMS services with data protection policies that offer data backups and data recovery services should be considered.
Customer Base & Customer Support
When purchasing a PIMS, the after-sale services such as integration and customer services are also important. Buying a product with no guarantees or after-sale customer service, especially with a PIMS, can be risky and frustrating. What is promised in the product description may not be the true reflection of the software and its functionalities, and the transition to a new PIMS requires ready access to troubleshooting and training to avoid a prolonged interruption of operations and patient care. With adequate support and the right choice of product, modern PIMS can radically improve practice productivity and efficiency and the experience of both teams and veterinary clients.
- Covetrus Veterinary Practice Survey, April 2021.