Digital technology has been transforming the veterinary profession over the past decade, and the coronavirus pandemic has only accelerated this transformation over the past year. But how many changes that AI, big data, and virtual reality have brought us are here to stay?
That was the main question leading veterinary professionals addressed at a virtual session on the future of veterinary consults hosted by The British Veterinary Association and Mars Petcare as part of the Vet Show Autumn Series.
In case you missed the session, here is a short summary of the debate.
Participants agreed that big data and AI will play an even bigger role in the future, given their ability to advance precision veterinary medicine: veterinarians are already regularly making evidence-based recommendations on procedures and treatments for common conditions in pets.
Dr. Dan O’Neill, founder of the VetCompassTMveterinary surveillance project argued that evidence-based veterinary care can help veterinarians ask the right questions about pets’ health. Data can reveal insights that can set both researchers and veterinary professionals on the right course for further investigations. “Search the data, see what you find, and you may well bust a myth”, Dr. O’Neill noted.
A good example of how data can contradict common perception is a recent VetCompassTMstudy that analysed the risk factors of heat-related deaths in UK dogs. Despite the notion that being shut inside a vehicle on a hot day is the situation most likely to lead to overheating in dogs, looking at veterinary records of over 900,000 UK dogs found that in 75% of cases, the heatstroke trigger was, in fact, exertion. Over-exercising dogs – especially dog breeds prone to heat-related illness – proved far deadlier than leaving dogs in overheated cars. These insights highlight the need to accurately inform pet owners about all the risk factors of heatstroke in dogs.
Dr. Timokleia Kousi, founder of The Vet Futurist, stressed that veterinarians have an opportunity to partner with tech developers to test and improve pet wearables. Ensuring they’re fit for purpose is paramount, given the potential these emerging technologies have in measuring a pet’s lifelong health. Dr Kousi added that veterinarians should embrace technologies already validated and contribute to their development, considering the value wearables can bring everyone involved: pets, their owners, clinicians, and developers.
The panel argued AI-driven diagnostics will play an increasingly important role in the vet consult room of the future. Future practice management systems will be much more than just a diary: machine learning systems will interpret clinical signs and suggest potential diagnoses to help refine further tests or treatments. This means clinicians will need access to the right, compatible tools that can enable them to interpret data and make evidence-based care recommendations. Veterinary practices using several digital tools to fit pets’ personalised care needs will also be more likely to embrace future innovations, Dr O’Neill added.
Dr. Chris Queen, author of The Nerdy Vet, predicted big data advancements would have an impact on veterinary practice sooner than other technologies like virtual reality. But how can practitioners gain expertise in analysing and understanding the value of big data? Continuous education was a key topic of debate, and panellists acknowledged that university curricula will need to stay up-to-date with innovations that are already starting to change veterinary care as we know it.
Dr. Queen indicated virtual reality holds huge potential for veterinary students’ practical training, especially during the current period of remote learning. Virtual reality can also help improve seasoned veterinary professionals’ skills. Dr. Queen noted that vet students will first need to experience and understand the value this technology can bring before we can see a considerable uptake in VR-based training.
The panel also recognised the concerns of some of those in the veterinary profession that technology might pose a threat to clinicians’ job security but adding that embracing the right technology will in fact enrich their skillset. By allowing technology and big data to deliver insights into pets’ health, veterinarians can better focus on interpreting the findings and building efficient care pathways for every pet.
Dr. Dan O’Neill added that continuous veterinary education also involves a mindset change. Thanks to pet care innovation, Dr. O’Neill argued we are now entering an era of relationship-based veterinary care, where pet owners, veterinarians, and researchers collaborate on equal footing. Pet owners embracing digital technology are becoming collaborators, providing veterinarians with the data they need to make personalised care decisions. This collaboration can help veterinarians give powerful evidence-based advice, which will in turn strengthen the partnership with pet owners.
The panel also felt strongly that veterinarians will play a crucial role in helping owners navigate through potential information overload and in guiding them to reliable sources. By creating digital resources owners can access before bringing their pets to the clinic, veterinarians can ensure owners are well equipped for a constructive conversation about their pet’s health.
Missed the debate? Visit the London Vet Show website to watch the full recording. In case you didn’t register for the Vet Show Autumn Series, you can view this session for free using the discount code BVAAUTUMN.
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