You’ve got a staggering amount of equipment in your veterinary practice; Ultrasounds, digital x-ray imaging, IV pumps, anaesthesia machines, sterilizers, MRI equipment and defibrillators (the list just goes on and on). The likelihood is that when you read the word ‘equipment’ your mind jumped to these examples before you even saw the list.
If any of these is in desperate need of an upgrade, you and your team will be aware of it. If it’s in danger of affecting your ability to offer high quality patient care it will be fixed or replaced.
But what about your IT equipment?
Your server, your laptops, thin clients, TV displays, desktops, tablets and all the software they use. When was the last time that your IT infrastructure was updated?
The majority of the practices that we are asked to come and help all have the same issue; their IT is outdated. And we get it, its just not a priority when compared to ensuring that the x-ray machine is up and running or fixing the sterilizers. These are critical to your practice functioning and the care you give to our furry friends on a daily basis.
We also understand that as an IT support company who specialise in Veterinary Practices that we are perhaps a tad biased on this subject, but bear with us here. We aren’t trying to tell you that your IT is more important than your defibrillators, but we feel it is our duty to educate you on the very real consequences of neglecting your IT systems.
Risk of old equipment in your practice
There are multiple levels of risk that old equipment and software poses to your practice. We’ve listed below the ones we most commonly see across the veterinary industry as a whole:
- Preventing delivery of patient care
- Damage to practice reputation
- Costs (whether direct to the practice or from lack of revenue)
- Impact on team performance
- Client frustration
All of these can have a serious damaging effect on a veterinary practice, especially downtime. We know first–hand just how catastrophic a complete system outage can be for a practice, which is why it’s imperative that your practice is doing everything to avoid this happening.
Really, the above risks are symptoms of three larger problems; Security, Dotage and Compatibility. We’ll examine each one below (and will try to keep the tech talk to a minimum):
Simply put, out of date software leaves you extremely vulnerable to cyber-attacks. And just because you are a small business it doesn’t mean that you are exempt from this rule, over 43% of cyber attacks are aimed at smaller businesses – like veterinary practices.
The security of your practice should never be taken for granted, and small things like updating your equipment and software might seem low on your priorities when dealing with a medical emergency but these actions can have a vast impact on your practice’s ability to fend off a cyber attack and continue to offer patient care.
In fact, 99% of the vulnerabilities exploited have been known by security and IT professionals for at least a year yet remain unpatched.
That’s a staggering statistic. Much of the software and hardware that you use will have updates available on a regular basis, this means that 99% of breaches are avoidable just by following through with the available updates and patches.
Cyber attacks come in many forms (see our article Top 5 Ways Hackers Access your Veterinary Practice), the threat with old equipment is that hackers exploit it to gain access to machines and systems, inevitably ending up with your practice data. Affecting your practice in the following ways:
- Downtime – if you lose access to your data due to a ransomware attack or a cyber attack crashed your systems your practice will experience downtime. It’s possible that this could affect your PMS so you will be unable to access patient records, take payments, schedule appointments and depending on the type of attack, cut off means of communication with your team and with your clients.
- Preventing delivery of patient care – if you don’t have access to your systems then you will be unable to deliver the high standard of care that your patients require, in a best case scenario this will mean inconveniencing your clients, at worst it could be catastrophic for your patients.
- Costs – If your practice is affected by a cyber–attack then you will not only have to spend the money to fix the problem, you might have to bring in an outside firm to fix it for you. This may not be cheap and would probably be a cost you haven’t budgeted for. Additionally, if your practice is unable to function you will lose out on the revenue that you would have earned in the time it takes to get you back up and running again.
- Impact on team performance – some cyber–attacks just aren’t that exciting. Your practice equipment could be infected for weeks, even months before you realise that you’ve been breached. Your systems will run slowly, which will impact the way that your teams can effectively do their jobs, not to mention frustrate every person that uses them.
- Client frustration – if you are unable to treat a pet due to a system outage your clients will understandably become frustrated, especially if they are worried about their pet. The combination of a cyber-attack and a disgruntled client is not fun for any of your team.
- Damage to practice reputation – if a cyber-attack prevents you from being able to care for your patients the ripple effect of repercussions on your practice’s reputation may be hard to shake, especially if you have a disgruntled pet owner who’s had a negative experience as a result.
If you want to avoid these risks then there is a simple step that goes a long way, you’ve probably guessed by now… ensure that your equipment and software is up to date. We talk about this in our Beware of Hackers Webinar which also covers many other aspects of cyber security.
Not only are businesses of all types becoming more and more dependent on technology, but technology is advancing at an unprecedented rate. It’s easy, especially in the veterinary industry where you are under such pressure caring for your patients, to forget to keep on top of how old your IT equipment is or to remember to update it every week.
A prime example of this, which we have seen endlessly in the practices we have worked with this year is the ‘2020 Problem’.
In January this year (2020) Microsoft business software that vets commonly use alongside their PMS and clinical technology came to ‘end of life’, which means that it is no longer supported by Microsoft. The systems affected are:
- Windows 7
- Windows Sever 2008
- Windows Small Business Server 2011
- Microsoft Office 2010
- Microsoft Exchange Server 2010
Despite that fact that some of this software is over a decade old it is still incredibly popular, with recent reports suggesting that as of end of life, it was still being used on 39% of PCs worldwide.
Not only will this seriously affect the security of your practice systems (see ‘Security’ section above) but this also has some other ramifications that you may not have thought of.
Out of date systems run slowly, so it’s likely that your system’s performance will be impacted, affecting your team, your clients and your patient care.
- Downtime – a glaring issue with old equipment is that there is a strong possibility that when it breaks there might not be an update available or it might not be fixable. In the case of the 2020 Problem software, there are no new updates or support from Microsoft, which means that once the system fails (and it will fail) your practice will experience unnecessary downtime. Leaving you, your clients and your patients in the lurch.
- Preventing delivery of patient care – with older systems, the older they are the harder they can be to fix (if that is even possible). This will increase the time where you don’t have access to your systems and are unable to deliver the high standard of care that your patients require. In a best-case scenario this will mean inconveniencing your clients, at worst it could be catastrophic for your patients.
- Costs – Replacing old equipment can be expensive, especially if something goes wrong and you have to replace it all at once. If your practice systems fail due to old age then you will not only have to spend the money to fix the problem, you might even have to replace it all in one go, this may not be cheap and would probably be a cost you haven’t budgeted for. Additionally, if your practice is unable to function you will lose out on the revenue that you may have earned in the time it takes to get you back up and running again.
- Impact on team performance – Much like people, the older IT equipment gets, the slower it becomes. If your systems run slowly it will impact the way that your teams can effectively do their jobs, not to mention frustrate every person that uses them.
- Client frustration – what happens if a client is kept waiting whilst trying to book an appointment (whilst your receptionist hurriedly clicks refresh on the system), if you are unable to treat a pet due to a slow out of date system your clients will understandably become frustrated, especially if they are worried about their pet.
- Damage to practice reputation – if a slow out of date system prevents you from being able to care for your patients the ripple effect of repercussions on your practice’s reputation may be hard to shake, especially if you have a disgruntled pet owner who’s had a negative experience as a result.
We believe that the majority of practices in the UK still have at least one bit of equipment that is affected by the 2020 Problem, which means they are at risk. If you haven’t already done so, please go and check yours and speak to your IT support team about getting updates. Alternatively, we have a 2020 Problem guide which you can download here.
Your practice makes use of lots of different types of equipment, which may need to integrate with your IT systems to enable them to work. For example, you need your x-ray machine to sync with your desktops so you can view the images, and your PMS (such as Robovet, Assisi and Animana) has to be able to work within the operating system your practice has.
The danger with out of date software and equipment is that other companies may stop supporting it too, which means it may not be compatible with latest versions of veterinary software and equipment that you currently have, affecting your practice’s ability to offer the latest treatments to your patients.
- Downtime – the scary thing about old and out of date software, is that the update of any other software could result in downtime. For example, if you invest in a new PMS, its possible that it wont work as effectively if you are using within an outdated operating system, or just not at all! To fix the problem you would need to update the operating system, which can be a big job, resulting in longer downtime. Once again leaving your team, your clients and your patients in the lurch.
- Preventing delivery of patient care – if your systems will not work in harmony, this will increase the time where you don’t have access to your systems and are therefore unable to deliver the high standard of care that your patients require. In a best-case scenario this will mean inconveniencing your clients, at worst it could be catastrophic for your patients.
- Costs – Replacing old equipment can be expensive, especially if you are having to replace them after upgrading another system. This might not be cheap and is probably a cost you wouldn’t have budgeted for. Additionally, if your practice is unable to function you will lose out on the revenue that you may have earned in the time it takes to get you back up and running again.
- Impact on team performance – If your out of date equipment is not compatible with the other systems you are using, they will run slowly or maybe even not work at all. This will impact the way that your teams can effectively do their jobs, not to mention frustrate every person that uses them.
- Client frustration – If a client and their pet is kept waiting for treatment whilst you’re trying refresh a slow system or figure out how to get it back up and running they will understandably become frustrated, especially if there pet is in need of urgent help.
- Damage to practice reputation – If incompatible systems prevents you from being able to care for your patients the ripple effect of repercussions on your practice’s reputation may be hard to shake, especially if you have a disgruntled pet owner who’s had a negative experience as a result.
I bet you thought you’d heard that last of GDPR, but sadly not.
Veterinary systems are full of data; client names, addresses, phone numbers and maybe payment details. Under the GDPR regulation it is your responsibility to protect this data to the best of your ability, we know that you worked exceptionally hard before GDPR came into place to make sure that your practice was compliant, but did you know that it goes against GDPR to use out of date software? This is because:
- It no longer receives support, so it cannot be fixed for you if it goes wrong.
- It no longer receives updates and patches so quickly becomes old and insecure.
- It is a major target for hackers due to the degrading security.
Ultimately, if you continue to use old, out of date systems your practice will become an easy target for cybercriminals as well as the ICO (Information Commissioners Office) for not being GDPR compliant.
Not sure what to do next? We’ve put together a short checklist for you, which you can use in your own practice:
- Conduct an audit of your current IT environment, including all software installed on your equipment as well as the equipment itself.
- Identify the out of date equipment or software in your practice, remove any from your environment that are no longer in use.
- Create plan to begin updates. This step may take some time and will require some real thought, especially as you will need to do it in the background whist your practice remains up and running.
- Follow through with the updates as and when required, keeping a log of what is completed when.
- Schedule reviews to ensure that updates of equipment are not missed and ensure that regular updates are scheduled for any software you use.
If you are not technically minded, ask for the help of an IT expert. Any good IT Support company should be able to guide you through this process and could even complete it for you if you’d rather focus on caring for your patients.
The important thing is that you begin the process, it doesn’t have to be an ‘all in one go approach’ as this isn’t necessarily feasible for every practice. But starting with the most important systems first will go a long way.