So you’re looking for better, more efficient ways to communicate with your clients and to streamline your veterinary practice’s workflows, and you’ve stumbled across a multitude of companies touting their app services designed to make chatting with clients a breeze. But, as you take a closer look, you’re overwhelmed with options and can’t decide what’s best for your practice. Although there truly is “an app for that,” is purchasing an app right for you? Or, should you build your own custom veterinary practice app ? Before you decide, read on for answers to some common questions.
Building your own custom veterinary practice app
Building your own app may be the path you’re leaning toward, especially if you’re looking for the most customizable option that grants you complete control, but consider the pros and cons first.
Question: How technologically inclined do you have to be to build your own app? What technology background do you need to make your app a success?
Answer: If you are planning on doing it all yourself, a technology background is essential. If you plan to hire a company to build it for you, you should be prepared to answer a lot of questions about exactly what functions your app needs to have and how it should work.
Q: What costs are associated with building your own app?
A: It depends on what you want your app to do. The more features your app has, the more it’s going to cost.
It is also going to cost more if you want your app to be available for both iOS and Android devices.
Q: How complicated is it to ensure your app integrates with your practice management software (PMS)?
A: Depending on which practice software you have, it may be relatively easy, or it may not even be possible. Most veterinary practices rely on a third-party provider to extract the data  from their software, but some practice softwares do not allow third-party access. The hard part is figuring out what to do with the data once you have it, matching PMS data to app user data, and ensuring the security of the data based on how you use it.
Q: How long can it take to build an app with multiple features (e.g., appointment and health services reminders, appointment scheduling, prescription refills, loyalty program, etc.)?
A: A basic version of an app will likely take at least a year to plan, design, build, test, and get approved in the app stores. And, while a complex app will offer more benefits to your team and your clients, the more features you offer, the longer it will take to build your app.
Q: How challenging is it to follow Apple and Google’s guidelines to allow your app to be put in their stores?
A: Probably the most challenging part is making sure you are following all of the guidelines—and there are a lot of them! Additionally, the guidelines change from time to time, so adjustments have to be made to stay compliant in order to keep your app live in the app stores.
Q: How many people does it take to build an app?
A: If you want to ensure your app will be as successful as possible, you’ll need a team of people. At the bare minimum, you will need a couple of software developers, a professional UI/UX designer, a project manager, and a marketing manager.
The bigger issue, though, is maintenance. After your app is live in the App Store and Play Store, you can’t disband your app-development team.
You’ll also find that you will have to do specific updates to accommodate the iOS or Android platform requirements or operating system updates. Since apps are dependent on the operating system of the device, whenever a new operating system version is released, your app may need to be updated so it is supported on the latest operating system version. You will also have to maintain your app to accommodate previous versions, as not all mobile devices will always be on the latest version of the operating system.
Don’t forget to consider who is going to be your tech support. If an app user is having trouble, who is going to assist them? A support person, or even a full support team, is essential to having a successful app.
Q: What benefits are there to building your own app, other than complete customization and control?
A: If the app you are building isn’t going to be free for download, then there is a financial benefit, but most businesses generally don’t charge for the use of their mobile application.
Buying a custom veterinary practice app
You may be leery of purchasing a pre-built app for your veterinary practice, since you’re not sure how much control and customization is available. Each app company provides different services, so first, determine what you’re looking for in an app . Then, compare and contrast the differences between building and buying an app for your practice.
Q: How customizable are pre-built apps that are available for purchase, especially in regards to branding and promoting your practice, rather than promoting an app company?
A: Customization and branding are completely dependent on the app company you choose. Some companies may only stick your logo in the app, while other apps have the appearance of having been totally designed by your practice.
Q: What are the average costs associated with buying an app?
A: First, determine which features are important to you. Client communication services are the main reason veterinary practices want an app, so if you’re looking for a robust app and platform that includes chat messaging, reminder services, prescription refill requests, and more, you’ll pay an appropriate fee. If you’re looking for a simple app that merely allows you to chat with clients, the app will cost less.
Generic apps with few features may be heavily discounted when you purchase additional services, such as appointment reminders, from certain companies, so the price can be bundled into a discount package.
Q: Can you pick and choose your app’s features?
A: Most app and client communication companies have a core list of features included in every package, with additional options available to add à la carte.
Q: What potential drawbacks can occur with buying an app?
A: While not applicable to all app companies, the following are downfalls you may experience when shopping around for your ideal practice app:
- Lack of integration with your PMS
- Reduced ability to customize
- May not suit your practice’s particular needs
- May need multiple apps/services to perform all the functions you require
Another key to take careful note of when purchasing an app is how your chosen provider handles your data . You are trusting another company with your practice’s data, so it is vitally important to understand how they are planning to use, share, and protect this information.
Q: How common are tech issues with a purchased app? Are problems fixed more quickly than they would be if you built your own practice app?
A: All technology products  encounter technical problems from time to time. It’s just the nature of the beast. The benefit of paying for an app is that the company you are paying should include support and maintenance in their fee structure, so you don’t have to pay extra when technical difficulties arise.
Buy or build: which is right for you?
After comparing and contrasting a purchased veterinary practice app and one you have built yourself, which option is right for you? Whether you only need a simple tool to quickly chat with clients, or you’d prefer a comprehensive, all-in-one client engagement and communication platform like Vet2Pet, it’s important to schedule product demos  with your top contenders to find the perfect fit for your veterinary practice.
Like this article? See also: Buying vs. building custom veterinary practice reporting and analytics 
Karyn Ekola, CVPM, started her veterinary industry career in 2002 as a kennel technician at Riverview Animal Hospital in Durango, Colorado. By 2011, she had worked her way up to hospital manager, earning her CVPM in 2016.
Karyn assisted with the development and launch of the Vet2Pet mobile app in 2010 and has been an indispensable member of the team ever since. As Director of Product, Karyn provides technical support to practices and app users; works closely with the developer team to coordinate new app releases, feature updates, and improvements; and ensures that Vet2Pet’s technology remains a cutting-edge solution for veterinary practices and their clients.
In her spare time, you can find Karyn playing with her two kids. She shares her home with three dogs and a cat and is an avid Denver Broncos fan and astronomer.