The future of veterinary medicine

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My friends, I have seen the future.

It isn’t every day that I get a chance to chat with a veterinary futurist, but that day came a couple of weeks ago. By trying to predict the future, veterinary futurism is by its very nature an inexact science. But there are certain developments in the veterinary industry that can give us a window into predictions for the industry’s future.

Take smart collars, for example. Just like a FitBit, there are collars on the market that can monitor pet physical activity like heart rate and step count. True, at the moment many of these devices measure relatively simple data, but some can monitor more complex indicators like heart rate and respiration. In all likelihood, even more advanced data is well on its way, which could be used to give us diagnostic information on the wellbeing of our furry friends.

Likewise, consider the humble litter box. At the moment, it doesn’t collect too much more than, well, pet waste and litter. But imagine that waste didn’t go to waste (ha ha), and instead was analyzed within the litter box itself as fecal and urine samples. Then, the humble litter box becomes the noble in-home laboratory. Sure, the technology required to create a litter-box lab might seem wildly expensive today. But technology has a knack for rapidly becoming less and less expensive over time.

Consider that the first laptop in 1981 had 64 kilobytes of memory, and sold for US$1,795. Your iPhone 6 that fits in your pocket has 128 gigabytes of memory—two million times that first laptop—and costs half as much.

All of that is to say: the future is coming, technology is getting better, faster, stronger, and more accessible by the day, and it could include collars that deliver diagnostics and litter boxes that double as labs.

What does all that mean for today’s veterinary practice?

It means that some services currently done in-house like labs and diagnostics will be transferred to the technology of the pet owner. The revenue for those services will likely go out the door with them.

What can the forward-looking veterinary practice do about it?

Practices can harness the innovations of their own technology to strengthen their processes, improve the quality of care they offer their patients, and deepen the relationship they have with their pet owners.

Here’s one modest example.

It’s never good when a pet owner receives an email for a pet that recently passed away. It’s heartbreaking, in fact. But if a pet passes away and its owner doesn’t inform the practice, scenarios like these can happen. At VetSuccess, we offer RETRIEVER, a lapsing patient email-reminder program, that emails clients when their pets haven’t been into the practice in 14, 16, and 18 months. We integrated a feature into the program that lets pet owners inform the practice that their pet is deceased. If an owner selects it, the practice receives an automatic email that the patient has passed away.

What does that mean for the practice? It gives the practice the opportunity to call the pet owner and express their condolences, offer support, or perhaps give guidance on grieving. However the practice chooses to manage their care protocols around the situation, ultimately an unfortunate circumstance can be turned into a chance to provide consolation and care. That raises the quality of care the practice provides to the client, and deepens the meaning between them. That, of course, makes for the best possible relationship.

Like I said, I have seen the future, and it might seem intimidating. But with thoughtful technology and focusing on the client-practice relationship, it’s possible to provide care in the face of grief, and create more meaningful, caring, and lasting relationships. In a way, the future likely won’t be all that different from the present. It will be about finding ways, as it is today, to take the best possible care of pets and the people who love them.

That’s something we can all look forward to.