Business , Columns

5 top trends of 2017

Corporate jockeying, telemedicine's evolution and new models of care all moved the veterinary needle.

5 top trends of 2017
More veterinarians are internalizing the locus of control and taking responsibility for their own, and by extension the profession’s, development.

2017 was a big year for the animal care industry. Now that we’re a couple of months into 2018, let’s take a moment to reflect on some of the changes that took place.

1. Big Companies Made Bigger Moves

What happened:

  • VCA was acquired by Mars.
  • Thrive Affordable Vet Care grew the low-cost, high-quality model.
  • PetSmart acquired Chewy for $3.35 billion in the largest-ever e-commerce acquisition.

Why it’s important: Big companies are recognizing the tectonic shifts taking place in the veterinary landscape — increased owner spending, competition for health care resources — and are positioning themselves to capitalize by acquiring more market share and looking for novel ways to innovate and meet client expectations. The evolution into adjacent markets and the tapping of their company’s resources will be essential for anyone within the veterinary space who wants to stay relevant for decades to come.

2. Veterinarians Took Ownership of Their Challenges

  • What happened:
  • The Veterinary Innovation Summit brought those operating on the periphery onto center stage.
  • The Veterinary Entrepreneurship Academy trained and continues to train the next generation of students to disrupt their industry for the better.
  • Not One More Vet continued to spread the message about the real needs of veterinary professionals.
  • New debt-forgiveness models were launched as Banfield Pet Hospital sought to attract more veterinarians.

Why it’s important: Many veterinarians are becoming increasingly aggressive toward disrupting the status quo. From seeking out new opportunities with companies and entrepreneurs on the outside to taking control of product development that will meet their needs, more veterinarians are internalizing the locus of control and taking responsibility for their own, and by extension the profession’s, development. In combination with this, the needs of the profession are being identified and catered to in unprecedented ways.

3. Telemedicine

What happened:

  • New companies entered the market.
  • New models of care were developed, reaching clients when and where they want.
  • The doctor-human patient relationship can be established through electronic means in all 50 states, and state veterinary boards and VMAs created task forces to address the perceived issues.

Why it’s important: Telemedicine fully arrived in 2017. The specific models are being worked out, but the general platforms have been established: either direct to consumer through a third party, or veterinarians employing a software tool to connect with clients directly. The notable companies are WhiskerDocs, PetCoach, TeleVet, GuardianVets, Petzam, PetDesk and Ask.Vet, among others. The pathway for further development has been set by human health care. The outcomes we’ve seen so far indicate that more animals are being seen, and more often, and this is driving revenue for bricks-and-mortar clinics, not taking the revenue away.

4. Humanization of Pets

What happened:

  • The Human-Animal Bond Research Institute continued to release data on the multiple effects of pet ownership.
  • Idexx released data showing that pet-related spending growth outpaced personal consumption.
  • Rover and DogVacay united to offer a comprehensive service package of dog walking, pet sitting, boarding and day care to help provide owners with more complete pet care.
  • Amazon launched Wag.com, which offers everything from food and grooming to health supplies and dog gland expression through Amazon home services.

Why it’s important: There is growing recognition that pets are family members that provide more than simple companionship. The average spend has increased commensurate with this humanization trend. Veterinary professionals would be wise to seek new ways of understanding the humanization of pets if they want to understand and relate to clients in ways their clients will understand.

5. New Models of Care

What happened: In-home care, telemedicine, specialization of care and wellness/preventive plans continued to grow the market.

Why it’s important: Companies are examining the client journey and identifying areas of highest need and lowest service — typically when an acute situation emerges unexpectedly. If the companies can provide just-in-time and wellness care with minimal disruption of the current client experience, they will inevitably win over those clients.

Gaze Into the Crystal Ball

These new models of care are worth considering for a moment. What might things look like in the near future? Here’s a scenario:

Potential pet owners drop by a shelter to look at puppies. The shelter has a relationship with a genetics-testing company like Wisdom Panel or Embark, thereby giving the family a better understanding of what the puppy might look or act like in four or five years. They pick Fluffy and, as part of the checkout, are offered information about pet insurance and a free wellness exam by a mobile clinic that will come to their house at a convenient time and in the meantime establish a veterinarian-client-patient relationship.

Before the wellness exam takes place, the mobile clinic offers to pair the family with a dog-walking company like Rover in order to provide basic socialization training for Fluffy.

A couple of weeks go by and a telemedicine company, having paired with the mobile clinic, contacts Fluffy’s owners to check if they have any questions. The VCPR is transferred to the telemedicine providers to allow for basic triage, diagnosis and prescriptions. The company suggests that Fluffy is ready for his neutering and offers to book an appointment with a local surgery center. Shortly thereafter, an information package is sent to the owners. A week later, the dog walkers come by and pick up Fluffy while his owners are at work and take him to the veterinarian for surgery. The owners have completed the patient history forms, so the clinic is prepared for Fluffy when he arrives.

The dog walker checks in on a mobile app to let Fluffy’s owners know that he’s at the clinic. Using the same app, the clinic snaps a photo of Fluffy before surgery to let them know he’s OK. At each point in Fluffy’s day, the clinic team checks in on the app and updates the owners and tells the dog walkers when Fluffy will be ready for pickup.

A week later, Fluffy’s owners are prompted to send a photo of the incision site to the surgery team. The photo is compared against a database to look for swelling, coloration and discharge. The owners are told that all is fine or that further examination might be needed. If the latter, the veterinarian receives the photo and determines a course of action. The veterinarian is uncomfortable with what she sees. She sends an appointment request to the owner, the dog walker and the clinic.

At this point, we haven’t even included in-home diagnostics, the use of telemedicine for remote communities or many of the other emerging trends. But the point is clear: These trends are lowering the barriers to care for many pet owners. As a result, a growing opportunity exists to open new areas of the pet market and extend health care beyond its limited physical domain.

Dr. Aaron Massecar is executive director of the Veterinary Innovation Council. Dr. Adam Little is co-founder of FuturePet.

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