The Softer Side of a Software Switch

A software switch may be a purely practical decision, but it carries its share of emotional weight. A familiar PIMS is more than a file cabinet on a server. It’s our connection to our clients. But change can be good.

A People-Focused Approach to Changing Practice Information Management Software

I remember when I was a kid and my dad helped my grandparents—both brilliant, literary people born before 1920—set up their first Windows computer. My grandpa, whom I knew only as the man who told me stories featuring characters with ridiculous names and danced around the living room humming “The Merry Widow Waltz” while I stood on his feet and chortled, now frequently asked my dad for technical assistance in a very serious tone I had not heard before.


Although an upgrade will undoubtedly benefit your practice over time, it will immediately change your team’s daily experience in ways that range from inconvenient to rage-inducing.

Since then, that same tone (with some additional colorful phrases) has come out of my mouth on many occasions, like when I was trying to cobble together telehealth appointments over Zoom at the start of the pandemic or when our Dish Network dropped out repeatedly during Michael Phelps’ last Olympics. But I don’t believe I had an appropriate level of appreciation for the situation my poor grandpa was facing back then until last fall, when our practice changed from our trusty on-premise practice information management software (PIMS) to a cloud-based program. (See sidebar.)

As much as it’s possible in the ever-evolving world of tech, I had grown up with that on-premise platform. The practice where I worked summers as an assistant during school used it (we diligently backed up all the data every night on a disk). Ten of my twelve years as an associate vet were spent using the same program. It was what veterinary medicine looked like to me.

I’ve often heard our profession described as resistant to change and sluggish to embrace new technology. But if there’s one thing COVID-19 proved to everyone, it’s that veterinary teams can adapt quickly and creatively. In the past two years, we have pivoted constantly, sometimes in a matter of hours, to keep our doors open and our teams, clients, and patients happy and healthy. But just because we’ve adapted doesn’t mean we haven’t mourned the loss of the “old way.” Resistance to change isn’t always about logistics—it can also be emotionally hard to let go of systems that have served us well for a long time.

A familiar PIMS is more than a file cabinet on a server. It’s our connection to our clients, from email addresses to which doctors they prefer, and it’s the best tool our teams have to avoid drug reactions, know if that heart murmur is new, or prescribe the correct dose of antianxiety medication that took three tries to get right. Its screens are burned onto our retinas after too many late nights making calls and typing records. We curse it forever when it goes down and almost cry with relief when it’s back up. After a chaotic shift, it waits expectantly for us to sit down and get to work. When we are faced with a mistake we made, an irate pet owner, or terrible news to deliver, it’s where we go to document, sometimes with trembling hands, the conversation we just had.

A software switch may be a purely practical decision, but it carries its share of emotional weight.

On-Premise Vs. Cloud

On-premise software refers to software that is installed locally on your business’s computers and servers (if you have them).

Example: You installed Microsoft Word on your computer and can use it even when offline.

Cloud software is hosted on the vendor’s servers in another location and is accessed over the internet.

Example: Your Gmail account, which you need internet access to use.

I know the decision to change PIMS isn’t an easy one. If it were, I probably wouldn’t have been using the same software at three different hospitals from 2004 to 2021. As an associate veterinarian, I wasn’t part of the conversations that led up to the decision to switch, nor was I involved in choosing a software, figuring out how integrations would work, or planning the onboarding process for our team of more than 60 people over two locations. As a team, we heard some buzz about going cloud-based, and then we found out it was happening—and soon. I expect this is how it plays out for most team members at most hospitals, and that’s understandable. It also might make many of us feel a little panicky, which isn’t the best mindset with which to approach a big change.

Although an upgrade will undoubtedly benefit your practice over time, it will immediately change your team’s daily experience in ways that range from inconvenient to rage-inducing. After weathering the first three months with our outstanding and resilient team, I wanted to share some things that, from an associate’s perspective, can help keep spirits up, attitudes positive, and clients happy.

Make Sure the Team Knows the WHY—Then Set Them Up for Success

Change is hard, but it helps to know why it’s happening. As we all probably know well, clients are more likely to take our recommendations if we give them a good reason. So first, have a conversation, well in advance, about why you are considering a switch. Your team is in the trenches all day with your current software. An open discussion at a staff meeting can help you gather feedback about what’s working with the current system and what they wish could be different. It may help guide your search and, most importantly, can make your team feel more involved and invested in the switch.

Assemble a team of “change champions” who will help you continue to talk with the team about the process. Some people may respond better to information from peers than from leadership. This is a great place to empower your younger team members who grew up entirely digital—they may not be able to identify a floppy disk in a lineup, but they can learn new software and integrations fast and talk about them positively. Priceless!

Have a plan in place for the transition period. Many software platforms offer on-site onboarding with their own team, which is a really, really good idea. In addition, overestimate the amount of time your team will need for each appointment during the first two weeks. It will take a lot longer to do mundane things like checking patients in, typing up histories and physical exams, and entering medications and charges. Hiccups are inevitable. Seeing fewer appointments might seem scary during these busy times, but no one learns well when they’re already feeling frazzled.


A software switch may be a purely practical decision, but it carries its share of emotional weight.

Take care of your team during the transition—with more than just pizza (but pizza helps). There are a few things to consider here. Hourly employees should be paid for all training that occurs on their own time or when they’re not scheduled to work. Associates paid with production-based compensation (ProSal) with negative accrual will lose production if you scale appointments back as you should. Negative accrual during this time may make them feel resentful about helping to lead the team through the transition.

Manage Client Expectations

Most clients are nice people who have jobs, too. So chances are that they will put up with almost anything if you explain that it’s because you’re changing software. It’s basically a universal human experience at this point. The key is to be transparent with your clients up front rather than explaining after they are already angry.

None of us would want to wait a long time, receive an unexpected bill for missed charges, or hear that our pet’s records are inaccessible. It’s understandable that clients won’t like that either, but all of these things are possible bumps in the PIMS-transition road. Here are a few ways to manage client expectations for a good outcome.

Make sure your clients know what’s coming. Send an email, post on social media, put a banner on your website, and change your hold message and voicemail. Put little signs in your exam rooms if you’re having clients come inside for appointments. Do whatever you can to make sure everyone who calls or arrives at your hospital hears more than once that you are preparing for a software switch.

Apologize and be honest when mistakes get made, but take every opportunity to talk about how amazing you think your team is. If you lose a client because you couldn’t make a major operations change invisible to them, they weren’t going to stick around forever anyway. A team who feels supported and appreciated is with you for the long haul.

I can hear my team laughing at Captain Feelings (me) for talking about switching PIMS as if it’s losing an old friend, but the truth is, we are creatures of habit. And we are also highly empathetic, caring people who pour everything we are into what we do for a living. Approaching a big change as a united team that includes staff and clients goes a long way toward making sure as much of that energy as possible stays focused on what really matters. 

Katie Berlin, DVM, CVA, spent 12 years in small animal practice as an associate veterinarian, developing special interests in pain management, preventive and senior pet care, and acupuncture. She is a group fitness instructor, certified running coach, and creator of The Vet Reset Podcast, where she talks to colleagues both in and outside of the veterinary field about mental and physical wellness, career diversity, and how they are finding a sustainable path to happiness in work and life. She now works full-time for AAHA as the Veterinary Content Strategist.

Photo credits: uniquepixel/iStock via Getty Images



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