Veterinary software: what’s the right tool for your clinic?

veterinarian in blue scrubs working at a computer

“Veterinary software? Eh, this clinic’s survived without it for twenty years… why switch now? What we really need is an extra pair of hands around here!”

It’s a relatable feeling, especially when you’re feeling overwhelmed on a Friday afternoon. However, the longer you work at a veterinary clinic or veterinary hospital, the more you realize that taking care of animals is the easier part of the job. 

It’s all the paperwork (and client management) that’ll make your hair turn gray. “Someone should really invent an intuitive, easy-to-use tool for managing this stuff,” you’ve probably thought to yourself on more than one occasion. 

And then you probably got pulled in six directions at once, and filed that thought away in the back of your mind. 

With so many pieces of data to track and so many communications to send, some important ones are bound to slip through the cracks—especially if you’re among the estimated 10-15 percent of clinics that still use pen-and-paper to manage records.

Sometimes this is because the information wasn’t recorded in the first place, making the records incomplete. In other cases the records simply aren’t accessible: scribbled on the back of a notepad, stuck in antiquated software whose login codes were lost long ago, or trapped inside a labyrinth of VPNs and on-site-only programs. 

Also, there’s the all-too-familiar issue of pointless redundancy—the wasted time and effort of entering the same piece of information five times in different siloed systems. Despite filling out an elaborate medical record, you still have to build the invoice from scratch. And for one reason or another, there’s often a key piece of information missing somewhere.

More often than not, this misplacement of information is reflected in clinics’ finances. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) estimates that the average clinic misses out on 5-15 percent of their total revenue by failing to bill correctly for the services they provide.

Adding another pair of hands might help with this. But it probably won’t move the needle as much as a simple, comprehensive tool for managing all your clinic’s logistics. 

So before you place a “Help Wanted” ad for another administrative assistant or accountant, you might want to consider investing in veterinary software first.

What is veterinary software?

It goes by many names: veterinary software, veterinary practice management software, or a dozen other permutations of the same basic words. But whatever it’s called, it has one main purpose:

Streamline operations at your clinic.

Veterinary software is built to manage a variety of different clinic workflows. From client-facing portals to staff-only inventory lists, there are (almost) as many types of software as species of turtle. Common subscriptions include tools for managing records, messaging clients, processing payments, and reporting finances. Some are specialized for a specific purpose, like storing medical records. Others cover a wider range of workflows, like storing medical records and client communications.

Veterinary software also comes in different formats. Cloud-based veterinary practice management software has become increasingly popular in recent years, with many clinics preferring it to old-fashioned tools that have to be installed directly on a clinic’s computer system.

Speaking of computers, some veterinary software is designed to be desktop-only. Others come in versions compatible with smartphones and tablets. Some can run on anything with a battery and an internet connection (though we can’t imagine why you’d need to use it on your smart toaster). 

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s take a look at what this software actually does.

Why use veterinary practice management software?

Any veterinary practice has a lot of moving parts, and keeping them moving together in the right direction is the biggest challenge for any practice manager. The right kind of veterinary software can turn this from a Herculean task to a more manageable, human-sized one—saving time and a lot of stress in the process.

From our conversations with vets over the years, here are the most common reasons people use veterinary software:

  • To make scheduling (and rescheduling) easier: Nobody enjoys playing games of phone tag, whether it’s for a routine checkup or an urgent operation. Veterinary software can function similar to scheduling tools like Calendly—the clinic posts its available slots, pet owners choose one that works for them, and you’re all set.
  • Provide more precise patient care: Overstuffed filing cabinets and dusty manila folders are where treatment histories, test results, and other bits of important information go to disappear. A software database, on the other hand, allows you to search thousands of documents in seconds, and auto-summarizes key points of an animal’s health record.
  • Keep track of supplies and equipment: From sedatives to latex gloves, a veterinary clinic needs a lot of stuff to function. With so many things to track, it’s easy to miss when you’re running low on something vital… unless it’s all being monitored, reordered, and updated in an automated inventory tracker. 
  • Assign staff responsibilities: It’s somebody’s job to clean up messes in the waiting room. But whose? Veterinary software makes it simple for managers to assign tasks, and for staff to know what’s on their plate.
  • Streamline client communications: A good veterinary software tool acts as a hub for all communication with clients, so you’re never stuck looking for information in Gmail when it was actually sent via WhatsApp. This can include 2-way SMS messaging that adds medically relevant messages directly to a patient’s medical record, a client-facing portal to manage records or prescription refills, and digital client forms that gather information prior to an appointment.
  • Bill more accurately: If your clinic grosses $2 million a year, you might be missing $200,000 of billable services, according to KSM Business Services. This might be the most compelling reason to try a software solution—who likes leaving money on the table?

Why choose a cloud-based veterinary software?

The first veterinary software tools pre-date the ubiquitous, ultra-fast internet we know today. Venerable software like Cornerstone, ImproMed, and Avimark walked so that their successors could run. These were known as “on-premise” software, because these tools could only be used on computers physically located at the clinic.

Cloud-based software has taken over the world in recent years, with common tools like Microsoft Office and Adobe Suite moving off your hard drive and into the cloud. 

Tools for veterinary clinics have made a similar migration. EzyVet, Covetrus Pulse, NaVetor, and DaySmart were among the first to take the leap. And while these early versions might’ve had clunky interfaces or limited functionality, they did point to important advantages of cloud-based veterinary software:

  • Cost savings: eliminate costs for servers and IT services, which run an average of $1,400 per month for most vet clinics
  • Accessibility: can be used outside the office just as easily as within it, with remote-in capabilities when you’re on the road or at home
  • Security: protect against ransomware while automatically backing up (and encrypting) data every six hours
  • Updates: improve software continuously with periodic (and automatic) updates
  • Scalability: can add new users or manage greater amounts of data whenever you have the need to expand
  • Integrations: offers flexibility to add new softwares and easily provide open APIs when needed
  • Versatility: can run on mobile devices like tablets or smartphones

Today the early wrinkles have been ironed out, and cloud-based veterinary software has become increasingly popular. In fact, one such company (Nectar—that’s us!) is now featured on Bain Capital’s list of Top 50 cloud-based startups, thanks to the vastly expanded capabilities and incredibly easy to use interface of our next-generation tool.

How to choose the right software for your veterinary clinic

The whole world is getting more computerized, and vet clinics are no different. There might not be as many types of veterinary software as, say, photo apps, but we’re catching up quick. That means choosing the right one requires a little thinking.

For most veterinarians, the key factors here are: price and functionality. 

The price of veterinary software tends to depend on variables like “how many users do you need” and “do you need a monthly vs. annual package.” As you’d expect, price points can vary quite widely. Some types of veterinary software offer discounts for startup clinics.

But equally important is functionality. A traditional practice information management system (PIMS) is set up for internal use only—your staff can use it, but your clients can’t. A patient care ecosystem (PaCE) includes both internal and external functions.

PIMS vs. PaCE: Which veterinary software is right for you?

PIMS can be a nice option for clinics who just want to digitize their records, and aren’t worried about efficiency in other areas. They’re also useful for isolated clinics with spotty internet access, since they don’t require an online connection. 

On the other hand, a PaCE might be a better choice if you’re looking for a more holistic boost to your practice. Instead of focusing on one silo of your clinic—medical notes, client communications, payment processing, etc.—a PaCE integrates all key processes and information into one hub.

But wait! What if you’ve already got a PIMS and you just want to add a point solution here and there? Like a client communications app that you can bolt on to your existing system, without switching over to a PaCE?

It’s an appealing idea—and one that often comes with hidden costs. 

The financial ones are obvious, as subscription fees for a suite of different services can pile up fast. But there are also human and efficiency costs that come with the a la carte approach: increased training time for new staff, reduced efficiency due to information being siloed in different software packages, and the frustrations of having to work with a bunch of different customer support teams just to solve a single issue.

In any case, here are a few key questions to ask before you chose between a PIMS and a PaCE:

Do I want to streamline internal operations, customer support, or both?

Which aspects of my practice cause the most headaches?

How tech-savvy is my team?

Now that we’ve thoroughly buried the lede: NectarVet has a pretty nifty PaCE that might be a good fit for your clinic, regardless of size. If you’re interested in learning more, please schedule a demo—we’d love to hear from you!