For the last few years, a group of forward-thinking visionaries have joined forces to create a conference on innovation in the veterinary profession. This year the Summit was held in Kansas City and I decided to take the opportunity to attend in person. I had listened online to last year’s keynote speaker and was blown away by some of the advances discussed. This year it was like sitting in a Star Trek movie!
First up were the e-commerce panelists. I can’t say I was thrilled to have PetSmart, Chewy and Petco representatives on stage but I had to admire their passion for creating access to care. These large companies have the money and the incentive to invest in both technology and marketing to advance the cause of pet health. The main theme was – there are many levels of medical care for pets and veterinarians need to be aware of, comfortable with and offering care at all levels. Although we all dream of practicing only “gold standard” medicine with clients who demand only “the best”, the facts are that many pet owners just can’t afford it. We must be creative in helping this demographic of pet owner do the best they can for their pets. Offering medically sound services on the more practical side and allowing payment options to split the cost over time using tools like #VitusPay will allow more pets to get what they need. Data shows this is about 55% of the pet owning public so being creative with care availability can open up a new revenue channel.
Some great news for veterinary hospitals. Since Covid hit more people want to support and shop in their neighborhood. The “buy Local” trend is big and even large grocery stores are utilizing space for local sources of food.
As a proponent of monthly paid wellness plans, data showed that pet owners are embracing these plans to help maintain their pet’s health. Check out my book The Veterinarians Guide to Healthy Pet Plans to get you started. They are also utilizing apps for purchases, appointments, loyalty perks, communication and payment. #VitusVet has all the tools needed for today’s modern pet parent.
Over 50% of our pet owning population is Gen X or Gen Y and they are obsessed with their pets. Vets must meet them where they live – on their phones. According to Smart Insights, 97% of consumers have backed out of a purchase because it was inconvenient. This is also where telehealth plays a role. The human adoption of use has increased to approximately 24% of the population and those who say they will never use it has also dropped dramatically.
Now for the Star Trek stuff.
Wearable will be the next thing for pets. Already we have digital harnesses and collar devises that will measure temperature, respiration and pulse but soon we will see more data like a “scratching” tracker. By measuring a pets increased scratching or head shaking activity we can stop some allergic pets from moving from itchy to hotspots or ear hematomas with early interventions. In 2019 Apple opened it Electronic Health Records app so that any patient can share their medical history with any health care provider. If this sounds familiar – #VitusVet has been doing this for several years for pets. There are smart collars and also halters for horses that send a signal out if the animal is in distress. There is a wearable ear tag for livestock that alerts to reproductive cycles. Whistle has a GPS locator to track lost pets and Elephant’s Edge tracks wildlife. For about $100 AliveCor will give humans the medical grade results of a 6 lead EKG by simply placing two fingers on the small pad Bluetoothed to your phone, but they also make a veterinary app that is a single lead for dogs. There are apps that track sleep in humans and dogs or pain in babies and in cats by using facial recognition. There are wearable interim tattoos that measure glucose in sweat and dispense appropriate insulin to the wearer using microneedles.
Eyes will be monitored for glaucoma through special contact lenses. Pill cams will replace endoscopy by having the human or animal simply swallow the tiny camera which photographs every inch of the GI track and sends Wi-Fi signals out to a receiver worn around the belly.
The Smart toilet – you read correctly – will perform a urinalysis, check for blood in the stool, view your anus for any hemorrhoids or tumors and even measure how long you ”sit”. All this data is shared with your physician.
Some of this new tech is frightening in the possible power it wields. With the advance in computing doubling every 18 months, there is a growth in Artificial Intelligence and machine learning. Computers have access to and most importantly, recall of, thousands of pieces of information. Computers have been connected to a human’s brain through external sensors (Brain Computer Interface) which can enable “thoughts” to move artificial limbs for amputees or exoskeletons for quadriplegics which is wonderful. But in the same vein a human was connected by computer to a rat’s brain and able to move the rat’s tail- just with thought. The entire room gasped! Regulation must step in quickly to halt abuse of something this powerful.
AI is also predicted to hasten the “death of the expert”. Currently SignalPet can read radiographs and return results to a veterinarian in minutes. Pathology in health care is the lynchpin for diagnosis and treatment of cancers. AI was tested in human breast cancer against a human pathologist and found to be 92% accurate as opposed to 73% for the human – who also spent 30 hours on 130 slides. The AI spent moments. AI can even predict the approximate time in its life span when your cat will develop kidney disease. Intelligent stethoscopes will more accurately find those murmurs and arrhythmias.
One day you will have a “digital twin” where drugs, treatments and surgeries will digitally test drive them to see how you will fare when these are used on the real YOU.
Point of care diagnostics will be available for you, (they are now) and your pet. Instead of visiting your healthcare provider for a test for flu, food sensitivities, indoor and outdoor allergies, STDs, illegal drugs or colon cancer, you just order a test online or pick up one in a pharmacy and test yourself with great accuracy. The doctor will simply treat you for the condition you know you have.
Ninety seven percent of human physicians are currently using telemedicine but soon you will see Tytocare where a small handheld device allows you to perform a physical examination on yourself. The results are sent directly to a doctor during a televisit.
Genomics have gone beyond finding ancestors to finding cancers, as they detect altered DNA in cells. Not only can they find the issue but with targeted medications they can resequence the faulty cells effectively stopping cancer growth.
Robots will admit patients to hospitals, become nursing assistants and sanitize patient rooms with greater accuracy than humans. Plus, they never tire and can even be programed to give “better than human” hugs. Need a knee replaced? No need for off the shelf orthotics when a 3D printer can make one to exactly fit your body.
Even nutrition gets techy when we test our gut for it’s microbiome and then supplement the proper gut bacteria to perfect our GI tract.
As you can see, advances in human and animal health are moving fast and veterinarians should be paying attention or get left behind. Our next generation of pet owners are the DYI generation and will come to us for confirmation and care rather than top down advise and expertise. We will have to earn their respect because it no longer comes with the title “doctor”.
Communication and collaboration are the keys to future success…but then they always have been.
If you need guidance on new technologies please reach out to www.dboone2managevets.com.