Innovation in Veterinary Practice – Takehomes from the Vivet Innovation Symposium

Movement was the word that summed up much of the topics of discussion at the recent Vivet Symposium. On a grey Manchester day, with the Tory conference just up the road, I was glad to be sitting in on sessions highlighting positive and proactive progression across the veterinary profession (and not a mention of Brexit!).

Communicating with the modern veterinary client

Nancy Rademaker of nexxworks gave one of those keynote speeches you want to pause, rewind and listen again. Framing the theme for the day; she described the movement demanded not so much by the current generation as by the information overloaded environment we find ourselves in. Movement from reactive to proactive healthcare; from treating sickness to improving wellness. Moving from data secrecy to co-operation, as the vast amounts of data being generated are contained in silos rather than shared, compiled and refined for re-sharing with much greater value. The movement from loyalty to convenience and a no cure, no pay culture. The movement from hard-nosed business to the need to blend soft skills with business or academic knowledge to deliver. She summarised the current climate with the five ‘I’s: where Information is constant and excessive. Individualism rules our culture, which puts ME at the centre. Immediacy – the want it now generation. Influenced by our peers over and above companies and professionals, and Intuitive where we rely more on our irrational brain (aka gut feelings) then use the rational frontal lobe to justify our standpoint.

Changing veterinary business models

This movement is happening at a rapid pace and the current generation was described as volatile, unconventional, complex and ambiguous (which strikes fear into my heart as a parent). As a result businesses need to respond with speedy, agile solutions, starting with the customer. Services that are flying in the current climate are those which are frictionless, accessible, self-service and tech-based.

Traditional hierarchical business models which slow the flow of command and control need to be replaced with flatter networks of lateral information flow to enable a high performing workforce to deliver solutions and services with responsiveness and rapidity. It may be just coincidence, but the week after Vivet the FT publish and article about the big Fortune 500’s needing to shift primary goals to ethical targets rather than filling shareholders pockets. Business is changing. The good news is, as pointed out by a later speaker, this generation are also willing to spend more on their pets who are increasingly valued as part of the family. The key is to understand their needs, while not stealing their time.

Anticipatory regulation for veterinary innovation

Daniel Berman of NESTA discussed movement towards a proactive approach to regulating innovation. In the current innovative climate he discussed how ‘best practice’ regulation involved regulators engaging stakeholders about the issues raised by innovation in rapidly changing environments. By engaging at the early stages and throughout the innovation process this ‘anticipatory regulation’ aims to create a future-proof frameworks to protect the public, while allowing innovation to progress.

Student Veterinary Innovation Competition

It is perhaps no surprise that the Dragon’s Den style Student Veterinary Innovation Competition showcased three Apps. Two of these three were to aid communication between owners and veterinary professionals and modernise it, if you will, by meeting the desire for personalised MY pet centric data and information and access to veterinary support and information. The winners were Christina Ratcliffe and Ana Almeida-Warren from Liverpool University with their VetCase App. The concept, a case-based learning app would include clinical cases taken from real-life situations and help students work up cases in practice. It will be interesting to see how the App develops from this point.

Customer-centric veterinary businesses

This leads nicely on to the topic of the debate titled, ‘In order to thrive the veterinary profession must become truly customer-centric’. Taken to the extreme this would put the needs of the customer over and above the needs of the business, the staff and even the animal patient. The debate became more about interpretation of the question and the motion was amended by the opposition to include the caveat of animal welfare, which swung some of the audience in their favour. Even the word customer was debated; we provide a paid for service to a customer vs. we have a trusted relationship to our clients. The protagonists won out – a recognition of the fact we have to think more about what the customer is thinking; their concerns, worries, needs, preferences and desire for information. If we can adapt our practices to address these needs, monetise them to ensure our business model is sustainable, train and support staff to deliver them, while still performing the heart of veterinary medicine and safeguarding the welfare of our patients, we should certainly thrive. Conversely if we do not, customers may not visit the vets at all and choose from the rapidly growing pool of unregulated ‘pet services’.

Veterinary AI – the human element

AI was discussed, not as the panacea to navigate these rising tides of informatics, but as a tool to guide our human endeavours. Coincidentally, a few days later on Radio 4’s Today Programme the father of AI at Berkley was discussing the threats of AI, and the need to contain it’s remit within uncertain objectives. To be safe, effective and useful AI requires human IA (Intelligence Augmented) from a person at the end to contextualise the outcomes with a healthy dose of reality.

Smorgasbord of innovations

I could go on… The plethora of fascinating speakers showed the potential of everything from CRISPR gene editing technology which can engineer pigs resistant to PRRS, to patient-side genomics. In a kit the size of a briefcase you can individually genetically fingerprint your herd, identify the ones at risk of disease X and then target management accordingly. Wearables and remote sensors with pattern recognition can pinpoint when cows are likely to ovulate within a window of a few hours, for accurate timing of AI (we’re talking insemination now).

How do veterinary practices prepare for the future?

Greg Dickens and Guen Bradbury closed by pulling together the ideas and innovations discussed into what consultations and farm visits ma look like in the future; targetted patient side tests, genomics and wearables data on top of clinical examination, all contributing risk analysis in addition to diagnosis and treatment. So how do we keep up and modernise our businesses and practices? If the rate of change is so rapid and we’re all pretty busy just doing the day job, how are we expected to keep up to date with latest Apps, devices and demands? The answer is to be curious. Keep asking questions and probing for details as if we’re being presented with a new ‘breakthrough’ drug by a rep. Is this the answer for us, our practice, patients and clients? What is the risk/benefit? Don’t be shy of technology and change, but investigate and explore the potential, apply clinical reasoning and be open-minded to trial and test the new products and services. In conclusion, the businesses which will thrive in the modern era are those which embrace and encourage curiosity and agility, and who greet change with a warm handshake and an open-minded discussion over a skinny-kefir-chai-latte (no-cream).

 

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