This is the fourth of a 9-part series of articles intended to walk you through all the ins-and-outs of purchasing capital equipment for a veterinary practice. Far too often important steps/factors are glossed over during the sales process, items that may not be clearly defined on product literature. Missed information can lead to confusion prior to purchase, other information gaps can lead to more serious issues down the line, when there is no turning back.
In this series, we cover the details and importance of:
- Evaluating Your Practice
- Assessing Your Needs
- Evaluating the Market
- Pre-Demo Homework
- Scheduling a Demo
- Post Demo
- Final Decision Time
- The Waiting Game
- Post-Install Support
This article delves into what we’ll call “phase two” of the Buyer’s Journey. “Phase One” was more geared towards arming you with the questions you need to broaden your view of the practice needs and then narrow that journey down to what matters most. Phase Two will teach you how to pepper your equipment specialist with questions as you set up and receive your demo. So your homework is not over because it is better to know the answers before you ask them, but this is more about NOT allowing any important question to go unanswered. Things related to:
- On-Site vs Digital Demo
- Relevant Technical Specs and Features
- Workflow and Integrations
- Education & Support
- Multi-Modality/Service Bundles
How can you SHOW me your product?
Given the current landscape, the idea of on-site equipment demo could be a challenge. Some clinics are slammed with the same (or increased) caseload, but with fewer employees and the added challenge of “no-contact” care. Other clinics are being cautious (and rightfully so) about allowing non-essential people (like salespeople) into the clinic.
That said, there is some truth to “seeing is believing”, so you are well within your rights to demand a virtual demo, given the times (and most likely, moving forward as the world changes). Your equipment specialist, and the company he/she represents, should have robust-enough tools to show you what you need to see.
If user interface and workflow are important for a given modality (and they almost always are), then they should at least be able to share a full workflow of screenshots. One step better would be easy-to-see videos of basic workflow (like close-ups of an ultrasound scan being performed). Better still, ask if they have a virtual software emulator, where they can point-and-click the same way you would on the actual device.
If image quality is important (duh, right?) then they should have unadulterated, DICOM-wrapped images to send you for your own review. You don’t want JPG, PNG, or PDFs that show what the images MIGHT look lie, but rather out-of-the-box images that show you what the ACTUAL image quality is. You should request these images be sent to you directly from a PACS system so that you can load, view, and manipulate those images on your own workstation, either in a browser or desktop-based DICOM-viewer.
The MOST important features…
Every product from every company has a product spec sheet riddled with technical specifications and regulatory minutia. But somewhere hidden in that are probably 3-4 truly important bits of information that distinguish that product from its competitors and relate directly to product quality (whether image quality or therapeutic output).
These important factors obviously depend on modality. Click on some of the links below to get a more tailored coverage of the important vs un-important things so you can disarm a salesperson who may try to get you to “look over here” when you ask the difficult questions.
How to Evaluate a DR System: https://soundvet.com/what-to-look-for-in-a-veterinary-dr-system-the-top-8-questions-to-ask/
More Advanced Topics on Plate Architecture/Materials:
Portable vs Console Evaluation: https://soundvet.com/portable-vs-console-ultrasound-systems-best-veterinary-practice/
Feature Evaluation: https://soundvet.com/6-features-to-look-for-in-veterinary-ultrasound-equipment/
Feature Evaluation: https://soundvet.com/5-features-look-class-iv-laser-therapy-system/
Things you Need vs Don’t: https://soundvet.com/8-things-need-therapy-laser-8-dont/
How it’s used and How it’s connected…
Workflow is of the utmost importance in the veterinary clinic. The vast majority of these systems were designed for the human healthcare environment, then re-purposed for the veterinary world. In that transition though, how much of YOUR input and YOUR workflow were taken into account?
It takes both a lot of work and a lot of strong partnerships with OEMs to build custom products. And creating custom products without a paramount dedication to User Experience is a waste of time and money. It is much easier to take something “off the shelf” from the human medical space and sell it to veterinarians, then force them to conform to “that” way of operating.
So as you prepare for a demonstration of software (and physical) workflow of the system, first be prepared to ask how much of this work was done, and second, be sure to put yourself in the shoes of your technician, the everyday user of the technology.
But the workflow for most pieces of capital equipment does not start OR end at the system. Most often the process starts with the Practice Management System (PMS) with patient data entry and image/treatment request. The “right” way to do things would then have that information sent to a Modality Work-List (MWL) server where it can be queried by the system for “today’s to do list”. But that kind of connectivity requires two things: an MWL-compatible PMS and an MWL-enabled modality (imaging or therapeutic). So these are good questions to ask your equipment specialist on a demo: what front-end integrations exist for PMS systems. In fact, you might even ask them to “prove it” by entering your clinic’s server credentials into device and see if you can pull over patient data.
And on the back-end, your images (or treatment reports) should live on a PACS server. If you’re in the market for one, the same equipment specialist who is selling you the radiography or ultrasound system should be offering you their version. If you have an existing PACS, you should be able to ask that same equipment specialist to DICOM-send you some images to that PACS server. Not only does this confirm the functionality, but it will also give you a chance to do some side-by-side image analysis against your current system (and any other competitor’s systems you are entertaining). Either way, DICOM/PACS compatibility questions are a must.
Who’s gonna teach and support my team…and for how long?
Education is a critical component for every new piece of technology. Some modalities are easier to learn (like Digital Radiography and Therapy Laser) and others require extra training (like Ultrasound). For the more plug-n-play modalities, there still needs to be some education, both built into the device as well as available online and on-demand. In a demo situation, make sure to get walked through the “help files” rather than just told they are there. You’d be surprised what “looks sufficient” in a brochure vs what is actually useful in real life.
For ultrasound, the learning curve can be challenging because most veterinary schools don’t cover the modality in depth. You’ll have much more diagnostic confidence if you invest in a machine that offers good image quality and is easy to use. But beyond the image quality, you can smooth out the learning curve by completing and implementing appropriate ultrasound training. Bear in mind that all training programs are not created equal. When comparing your options, find out how much time you will spend scanning a live animal in the lab with an instructor by your side—the more the better; this is the most important factor in a veterinary ultrasound training program. You should also consider the number of instructors and their credentials.
Ultrasound systems, probably more than any other modality, can grow your practice and the level of care you offer, so you need to know that the training can accommodate this growth. When you’re comfortable with cystos and FAST scans, make sure they offer intermediate courses for the major abdominal organs as well as more difficult structures such as the pancreas, lymph nodes, and GI tract. From there, you may need advanced course for full diagnostic scans.
And stuff goes wrong even with the best technology. If your system malfunctions or if you’re unable to navigate the user interface, you should be able to pick up the phone, call tech support, and get the problem resolved quickly. Otherwise, patient care may suffer, along with lost revenue while your equipment is out of commission.
Technical support only available Monday-Friday, 8am-5pm, as offered by some companies, should not be acceptable for your practice needs. Your clinic is most likely open outside those hours, and so if you do have issues, wouldn’t it be best to solve them after hours before your patients get there the next morning?
Another issue is the first-hand experience of the technical support personnel with their products. In the best case, the company has partnered with the same, reputable panel and/or software manufacturers for many years through several models/versions, and in some cases, has even had a hand in the development of these products. This level of experience provides assurance and a comfort level you deserve. In the worst case, distributors are simply resellers, with little to no interest in the technical support that you and your patients deserve.
In any case, know the company you’re partnering with, and the extent of their relationship with the manufacturer of both the hardware and software. It will most assuredly save you headache down the road.
What else can you offer?
It is ok to be specialized as a practice, so of course it is ok for an equipment company to specialize. But if I come to your clinic needing a radiograph for my cat, and you need to refer me to a practice down the street for a dental radiograph because you don’t have one, then next time, I’m probably going to that clinic first.
Some companies have worked hard to diversify their product portfolio across equipment modalities and even across services. A bigger company that can sustain business across multiple sectors can offer you stability in the long haul: you have a single point of contact for all your equipment needs on the sales side, you one phone number to call for all your tech support needs, and you have consistency in expertise, workflow, and user interface across all their products. On top of that, you can undoubtedly unlock some multi-modality discounts to save you some money.
In fact, often if you engage in diagnostic laboratory service contracts, you can get enough incentive upfront to pay for your equipment. In any case, this is an important question to ask during your demo.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a virtual demo in today’s environment. Do your homework ahead of time so that you can make the equipment specialist answer the tough questions regarding tech specs, workflow, integrations, education, support, and multi-modality bundling opportunities.