Before the last 18 months, Digital Telemedicine was always something on the horizon, it was steadily gaining more and more speed until the events that unfolded in early 2020 took this new wave of technology on full speed and brought it to the forefront of everyday veterinary practice.
It was reported that following the pandemic and the restrictions this brought upon veterinarians seeing patients in the clinic, going forward we can expect up to 40% of primary to be achieved remotely.
The desire for this digital revolution is firmly being led by the public, who during the pandemic unable to see their vet face to face, turned rather warily to Dr Google for their answers and now they hope for the development of different tele-advice, tele-triage, tele-consulting and tele-medicine-type platforms to prevent that from happening again. Not just the public but many Vets are growing in cautious support. Indeed, there were plenty of times in practice when I would have loved the access to a Telehealth platform for triaging calls. One example springs to mind when I turned up at 3 am to the Farm animal side of the clinic to attend a “Large Animal”, only to be met by the owner of a Great Dane!
A quick review of more than 30 leading telehealth providers in the animal space throughout Europe and the US shows that there is a staggering array of digital services available already, from multi-person video conferencing even through to integration with pet wearables. No two providers are the same, and when you look at what they offer combined, we wonder if regular visits to ‘bricks and mortar’ vet clinics may soon become a thing of the past.
The leap in technologies becoming more and more available is also staggering. This year alone has seen developments such as litter trays equipped with digital cameras on the inside of the lid, to capture those limited moments that cats are likely to display certain behaviours like facial expressions of pain, such as they do when they’re in a secluded place like a covered litter tray. These ‘Smart’ litter trays are also built with monitors to record how much it urinates and defecates, differentiating the data between the two. Other developments have also included apps that can identify lameness in dogs as well as some human eyes. It is incredible to see these improvements in technology as we evolve in to this new future of digital veterinary.
We know of course there will always be a certain level of need for pet owners to make a visit to a vet, for those with conditions that require direct contact with a professional, including administration of vaccine and surgery. But there are a whole range of areas that could easily lend themselves to some form of telemedicine. Certainly first-opinion consult, tele triage and some specialisms such as dermatology, for example, could be fantastic uses of remote appointments.
Whilst the public may be the ones crying for these new digital revolutions.. Who is going to be the ones who drive these changes and bring them in to the everyday? Will it be the Vets themselves or will this come from the animal health companies, many of which have now begun to explore this area? Zoetis, MSD, Vetoquinol, Boehringer and Ceva, all now have a digital platform or means of digitally interacting with customers and their animal owners.
Plus the animal health distributors won’t miss an opportunity to be part of this industry growth. We know that digitisation can shorten supply chains, and so we’ve seen the dominance of platforms like Amazon grow hugely in this sector. So what can these distributors to help keep the hold in their market? They will need to continue to build strong relationships with clinics and the drive to innovate, helping their Veterinarians maintain a close relationship with pets and pet owners. We know from the livestock sector that technology, especially where professional advice benefits the interpretation, reinforces the relationship of owners with the vet channel.
Whilst technology continues to be an ever-evolving and practical tool, it makes sense that more and more veterinarians will use it effectively to offer an improved service to their pet owners. If this past year is anything to go by, many great solutions are now available and more being developed every day. We’d love to know what you think of the digital revolution in the Veterinary Industry. Is it something you’re ready to embrace or has it hindered your day-to-day in the clinic with patients? Leave us some comments below.