Clint Latham, JD
Director of Veterinary Data Security, Lucca Veterinary Data Security
Migrating to a new practice management system (PIMS) is tedious and requires the involvement of stakeholders spanning from owners to end-users to be successful. To make the promises of a new PIMS platform real, veterinary practices should engage all their stakeholders at different levels to assess and plan the migration process and to ensure the entire team feels comfortable with the process.
Client-facing staff like veterinary technicians and front-desk associates have an important part to play, both when the practice is evaluating a cloud-based PIMS and during the migration process.
In many cases, these are the team members who interact with the PIMS most frequently, performing tasks such as entering and tracking client data, demographics, and appointments. They are also responsible for billing clients, submitting insurance claims, processing client and third-party payments, and generating reports for other staff members, all while using the PIMS.
These team members should be consulted when deciding on the final platform. Chances are they are already accustomed to the current system they are using. Any changes made will interrupt the day-to-day workflow and may slow them down. With veterinary staff often extended beyond their limits, it is important to get their buy-in on the new solution. One advantage of switching to cloud-based systems is the way these systems iteratively improve and enhance the user-experience. This allows increased ease of use and intuitive enhancements so that, even if a platform is new, it has advantages or enhancements similar to other platforms the team may have encountered.
Practice managers should also be involved in the planning of migration, as they interact with PIMS on a daily basis to track and process claims, bill clients, manage staff, and allocate jobs to other staff members in the practice. The practice manager will also be very familiar with what integrations they are currently using and which third-party integrations are preferred with the new system, which will keep the hospital running with minimal workflow interruptions. Beyond basic PIMS functionality, practice managers will also have an eye for business advantages and measurable efficiencies. Client-facing staff are often tactical users, but practice managers often seek strategic insights and advantages as well.
IT Support Resources
Most veterinary practices have 1 of 2 forms of IT or technical support:
- An outside IT vendor or professional who knows a lot about technology but probably very little about the inner workings and needs of a veterinary EMR or practice management system
- A staff member, practice manager, or owner who knows just enough about technology
Its important to have your technical team members involved in the cloud migration process. A cloud PIMS provider may often claim that the server can be removed once the migration is complete, only for the clinic to discover that there are several functions and features the practice relies on the server for that the could PIMS cannot perform, thus requiring the clinic to keep the server in service. This can often be counterproductive to switching to a cloud-based system. If you are migrating from a local server, having your technology professional involved is crucial to ensuring all server functions can be migrated to different services.
If you are not sure whether you have a technology professional, check with your new cloud PIMS provider to see if they have a network admin who can review your systems to ensure you are truly cloud-ready. Most major cloud PIMS providers have someone on their staff or a trusted firm they work with and can refer you to.
As a veterinary practice, one of the biggest decisions you will make is choosing the right cloud service provider. Failing to do proper research on your cloud service provider can result in inefficient customer support, poor cloud services, high downtime, and loss of services—factors that will impact your practice and result in an inability to provide quality services to clients.
Your clients should also be considered when making the final decision about the new PIMS platform you are going to use.
In cases in which the PIMS has a customer dashboard, the consideration becomes even more crucial, as unexpected changes in functionalities and design can result in difficulty for clients. Therefore, when considering the best migration method, consider using a cloud-based PIMS platform that closely resembles what your clients are accustomed to. This will work to eliminate any issues with capabilities such as online pharmacies or scheduling capabilities that the owners may rely on.
You may also want to consider additional functionality that the new system can offer as a benefit to your clients. Some items include but are not limited to:
- SMS communication
- Pre-built smart phone apps
- Automated client form request
- Appointment booking requests
- Online pharmacy for prescription refills and delivery
- Ability to access vaccination records for boarding
- Anesthesia monitoring and whiteboarding
Throughout the exploration and implementation process of it’s important keep these key stakeholders in mind. Keeping open lines of communication with team members and clients will ensure that the transition will be as seamless as possible.
Making the Final Decisions
In this phase, the veterinary team and key stakeholders for the migration process should obtain all the details about the prospective platform, including demos, functionalities, and pricing. The process should involve reviewing what the cloud-based PIMS differentiators and capabilities offer, then comparing it with your must-haves. At the same time, evaluate your current PIMS on the same terms, and your irreducible minimums for a PIMS.
Demo & Trial Prior to Final Decision
One key step in the process is to have team members interface with any PIMS under consideration. Being able to interact and trial a new system will allow these stakeholders to review pros and cons of each system and ask questions as they arise. The trial phase will allow them to anticipate needs that will arise during the transitional phase and better prepare for a smoother transition.
This phase also introduces the stakeholders to cloud-based solution IT partners and vendors, where, in some cases, they will begin engaging with each other. Forming these relationships prior to the actual transition will allow for fewer hurdles along the way. The phase also sets expectations for the team, partners, and vendors for the next phase.
In this phase, the stakeholders, practice owners, and IT partners are on the same page: a cloud-based platform has been chosen after numerous demos, and the platform vendors are ready to supply the cloud-based PIMS solution. This phase involves a series of steps, including:
- Migration planning: The process of planning migration kicks off and stakeholders, practice owners, and vendors work together to put a migration plan in place.
- Discovery and solution design: After agreeing on a migration plan, a series of steps and sequences are established with the sole purpose of meeting the goals outlined in the migration planning phase. It is also in this phase that the problems the cloud-based platform is meant to solve are identified, a plan is drawn on how to solve these problems, and potential risks and bottlenecks are analyzed before embarking on the next step.
- Testing with migrated data: After setting up your cloud-based platform in the testing phase, it is important to test the platform using migrated data. This will help you evaluate if the system works in a real-world situation. In this phase, data from your old platform is migrated to the cloud and multiple tests are carried out, including functional testing, end-to-end testing, interactive testing, integration testing, and security testing.
- Training stakeholders: This step involves stakeholders and practice owners being trained on how to use the cloud-based system. They are also advised on what to do when they encounter problems and errors.
- Process mapping and workflow planning for future training: Veterinary practices include this step to help them gain insights into processes and gaps in the cloud-based platform they are implementing. People in management also use process mapping and workflow planning to brainstorm ideas about how to improve the processes involved in the cloud-based system to increase communication. It is also in this phase that documentation of the platform is provided.
- Migration and cutover planning: Cutover planning is the transition from the old IT infrastructure on to the new cloud-based system. It is in this phase that the entire migration from your on-premise data center to a cloud-based platform is carried out. The main objective of this step is to minimize disruption when the actual migration process is being carried out. It is also one of the most important steps during cloud migration and can dictate whether the migration is successful or not.
- Features & Updates: In this phase, veterinary practices have already migrated to a cloud-based platform. However, to keep the systems running smoothly, actions such as staying updated with the latest information from your cloud service providers, communicating new updates on your cloud platform with the staff, and training them on new functionalities being added on the cloud-based PIMS are required.