Buying new technology? Take your time, get consensus, experts say

IT professionals give tips on how practices can upgrade strategically

Purchasing new technology should never be a snap decision. William Lindus, director of operations at I.T. Guru, a business dedicated to veterinary information technology (IT), has seen it happen before, with unfortunate consequences.

One of his clients bought a new piece of diagnostic laboratory equipment. However, Lindus didn't find out until he was asked to install it. When the owner had made the purchase through the vendor, he should have also purchased integrators and hardware at the same time but didn't think to do so.

Tech advice
Talking with information technology experts ahead of purchasing new equipment, software, or other technology can help move the process forward more easily. 

"So they had a $10,000 coat rack until a new piece of equipment came in," he said. "They lost time in using the device and getting value for their investment."

Lindus and Andy Jonardi, founder of Pet-IT, a Texas-based IT consulting business specializing in veterinary practices, presented on the Axon webinar, "Talking Tech With Your I.T. Team," released in late July. They discussed what practice managers and others need to know about navigating the technology landscape and how to integrate new technology in a veterinary practice.

A lot to consider

In an interview with AVMA News, Lindus said, "There's all this new technology out there and it all feels so overwhelming—like if I'm missing one piece, I'm behind the curve—and that's not the case."

He acknowledges it can be overwhelming coming back from a convention with information from many vendors about their products. Lindus says the first question to ask is, "What does this do?"

"Sometimes it might solve a problem, but the answer shouldn't be, ‘A person at this booth told me it would solve XYZ,'" he said. "They're all good products, but they're not all good products for every single practice."

Take practice management systems, for example. Should it be easy for staff to learn on something elaborate and customizable? Should it be hosted in the cloud or on an in-house server?

Physical capabilities may also be a consideration for some hardware. If it's a big piece of equipment, does the practice have proper power requirements to accommodate it? Is there space for the equipment and any accompanying equipment, such as an X-ray and imaging cooling system?

Timing is also an important factor when purchasing new technology. Lindus recommends a great time is when the old technology is approaching the end of its lifecycle to consider what new capabilities you may want.

Lindus will have his clients build out a one-, two-, and five-year plan and then break those into quarters. How much time do you need to save for it? What is your most immediate need that new technology could meet?

"Another thing you can start doing is looking at how the different integrations and tools you want to purchase and use might play in the cloud environment," he said. "So let's say you want a pharmacy integration or smart board to play with your environment but they don't work with your onsite server, so then you need to start building checklists and saving."

Asking the right questions

Lindus advises involving staff members and partners at the beginning of the decision-making process. Often when working with veterinary practices, he sees owners or practice managers feel as though they have to be a subject matter expert in everything.

"It's a badge of honor to wear a bunch of hats, but the truth is there is a time when you need to rely on another person's understanding of things outside your expertise," he said.

Bringing in the practice owner, practice manager, someone in charge of finances, team leaders, and the IT team allows them to see how the new purchase will affect their areas and ask questions.

Some questions for the vendor may be:

  • How will the new technology fit into my existing data workflow?
  • What is the process from beginning to end on making this purchase?
  • Will this new product import my old data, or do I have to keep the old software?

Jonardi emphasized the importance of asking for references from vendors, preferably customers who have used the equipment or software for a while. That's because they are experiencing the day-to-day issues and likely had or have the same questions you may have now.

When the new technology arrives, depending on how technical and comprehensive it is, it's a good idea to dedicate time to training staff members.

"You might want to have blocked out time when everyone can be trained without worrying about patients and clients versus having a trainer there trying to get people in and out between patients, because that often doesn't stick as well," Jonardi said, adding that practices should have a point person responsible for the ongoing training and maintenance needs.

In general, Lindus says talking with IT experts like himself is important. Their job is to work with the practice manager or owner to understand their issues, frustrations, and needs so they can work with them and the vendor to move the process forward.

"This is your baby, you have to live with consequences, but we can do a lot of heavy lifting, asking the questions you didn't know you needed to ask, getting demonstrations scheduled, and such," he said. "My biggest advice is don't feel like you have to do it all at once and all by yourself."