Eric D. Garcia
Socially Acceptable columnist Eric D. Garcia is an IT and digital consultant who works exclusively with veterinary practices and speaks at veterinary conferences around the world. He founded Simply Done Tech Solutions to help veterinary practices improve their services and marketing communications efforts. He is a member of VetPartners, an association for veterinary practice development. He was named Practice Management Speaker of the Year at VMX 2020. Learn more at ericgarciafl.com
It’s all too easy to become overwhelmed by new offerings flooding the veterinary marketplace. While many of the shiny, new mobile apps are worth their weight in gold, cutting through the noise to determine the best fit for a veterinary practice isn’t so simple.
As more companies promise to enhance engagement with the modern pet owner, choosing those that will provide the most seamless fit for a veterinary practice becomes harder.
Not all app companies are made equal. Each offers something unique that could either integrate flawlessly with your practice or not align with your strategic plan, causing a headache.
This article will help you better understand your options in the growing veterinary app marketplace and how to identify the best path for you and your clients.
Apps Are Ubiquitous
Before we go any further, let’s start with the basics. Why should you even care about having an app designed for your clients? To answer the question, let me pose one more: Do you use an app like Uber or Lyft for transportation, an app like Amazon for shopping, or an app like Facebook for social media?
If you answered “yes,” you are part of a rapidly growing majority. Pet owners are no different, as they already use smartphones and apps for services they need daily. Increasingly, they’re looking for the same level of convenience with veterinary care.
Having a seamless app for your practice can mean faster access to vital information, an easier time booking appointments, increased convenience and a general sense of well-being that comes from making your interactions with clients as easy and rewarding as possible.
Mark Olcott, DVM, the co-founder and CEO of VitusVet, explains it this way: “I frequently say a couple of smart college kids can create an app in one weekend. It’s not hard to make an app. The really hard part is getting pet owners to use it. If you have an app where 2% of your clients have downloaded it and nobody is regularly using it, you don’t have an app. It’s in the practice’s best interest to have an app that is relevant and engaging, but they have to earn their way onto their clients’ smartphones. The bar is continually rising for what consumers expect from a mobile experience.”
In essence, this means that gaining real estate on pet owners’ smartphones is hard work, especially considering their phones have finite storage space and they want the device to be full of rewarding, useful and interesting apps.
I asked Bill Schroeder, senior vice president at InTouch Practice Communications, the developer of an app solution called Happy Vet, what features he thought an app should have. One of his responses hit it right on. An app, he said: “Must have the ability to remind clients of upcoming appointments, overdue services and refills via push notification. It should also include the ability for the pet owner to request appointments.”
Those basic features are the key to consistent client engagement.
One proven way to ensure your app is both engaging and useful is by building a client-loyalty program. If you’re interested in seeing some great widely used programs, be sure to check out Vet2Pet, PetDesk, Petlocity and AllyDVM.
Loyalty programs are an effective way to help veterinary practices build revenue by rewarding clients for the dollars they spend. This type of reward tends to drive more spending and with less hesitation.
A great example of an effective loyalty program is Starbucks Rewards, of which I’m an avid fan. (I’m sure anyone with a caffeine addiction can relate.) The more I spend, the more rewards I can redeem toward future purchases. When I buy a venti quad skinny vanilla latte, I’m not worrying about spending extra cash; I’m thinking about inching ever closer to my next free latte.
The same principle applies to the health care field and veterinary medicine, where rewards can encourage clients to come back more routinely. To learn more, I asked Stacee Santi, DVM, the founder of Vet2Pet, for her take on this approach to incentivizing care.
“Ahh, loyalty programs! If you’ve ever wondered why every business around seems to have a loyalty program these days, it’s because they drive visits and revenue in a tremendous way with top customers and clients,” Dr. Santi said. “People love earning rewards, so when you offer a loyalty program, you are helping clients to find a reason to shop with you instead of the big-box retailer or online provider.
“Driving compliance for better pet owner behavior with pet health care is something veterinarians are very passionate about, which fits nicely with a loyalty program,” she added. “Want to drive more heartworm prevention compliance? Add a bonus loyalty stamp for every 12-month supply the client purchases.”
Dr. Santi has taken keen interest in the data surrounding loyalty program success, helping to publish the first industrywide report on the subject a couple of years ago.
“Focusing on the financial performance of loyalty programs, we found the average to be a $91,000 spending increase in the first 12 months,” she said. “Now fast-forward two years later and that number is in the $200,000 to $300,000 range. The data is so exciting and is better than we ever thought. It’s a fun way to improve the financial health of a practice.”
Medical Record Sharing
If a loyalty program sounds unappealing, try a different approach by choosing a mobile app that allows pet owners to access medical records. In this case, both VitusVet and BabelBark are worth examining.
Dr. Olcott is passionate about access to medical records.
“Pet owners really want this and, correctly, they feel entitled to it,” he said. “From their standpoint, they’ve paid a lot of money for this information and want access to it. This is where most apps in the space fall down, because merely showing vaccine dates and prescriptions doesn’t help a pet owner in an emergency.
“As a former emergency veterinarian, at 2 a.m. I could not care less when my patient’s distemper vaccine is due. What I really want and what pet owners need is to see lab work, SOAP notes, drug allergies, diagnostics.”
We live in a world where consumers both demand and deserve access to this type of critical information. If people have full access to their personal medical records, why should their pets be any different? My doctor’s office allows complete access to my entire physical exam, bloodwork and more. This allows me to check up on this information on my own time while giving me the peace of mind that if I’m traveling or need to receive emergency care anywhere around the world, the information is accessible.
Kerri Marshall, DVM, MBA, the chief veterinary officer at BabelBark, explains it this way: “Most pet health care decisions made by the pet parent are made outside of the traditional veterinary office visit. In addition, a vast amount of medical data is being generated by new diagnostic modalities that are also beginning to be provided for home use. It’s time for veterinarians to modernize their technology and business, as many others have already done, in order to stay relevant and improve client engagement.”
Dr. Olcott noted that “The genius of Amazon is not low prices, it’s radical convenience and simplicity.” It’s this radical convenience that pet owners are beginning to crave and ultimately require.
Remote Patient Monitoring
If you’re looking for an app that leverages wearable technology to enhance patient care after each visit, BabelBark can help. The company’s sleek remote-monitoring device tracks data points such as movement and sends them to the veterinarian. This feature is especially useful in a scenario where a patient requires strict, extended cage rest after a surgery.
Normally, a client will take the pet home, confine the animal for a while, and then feel bad and let the pet out to play. Pet owners don’t know how much activity is too much, so the device transmits the data and allows a veterinarian to provide more expert advice. When Mrs. Smith takes Fluffy on a prohibited walk, the veterinarian can track the activity, call Mrs. Smith and gently remind her that Fluffy needs strict cage rest.
Remote monitoring can be bundled into the surgery cost or offered for an additional fee, but it also offers a wider range of uses. The technology can remind clients when a pet is due for medication and notify the veterinarian if the client is non-compliant.
“Remote monitoring is one of the most exciting ways a veterinarian can support the pet parent before, after and in between visits to ensure the pet is recovering and maintaining good health,” Dr. Marshall said.
This type of monitoring and transparency also supports preventive medicine.
“We can detect disease before overt clinical signs appear,” she said. “Tools like activity tracking and telehealth will lead to not only breakthroughs in outcomes, but also improvements in the quality and length of life for our beloved pets.”
While many apps have common core features — think push notifications, appointment confirmations, surveys, reviews and newsletter sign-ups — developers often promote unique characteristics. When selecting a company to help you with a clinic-branded app, consider downloading a demo to get a feel for the aesthetics and functionality.
The Future of Apps
To better understand how mobile app technology will shape veterinary care for years to come, I asked the same question of each thought leader I connected with: What does the future of apps look like?
To Dr. Marshall, the future of veterinary medicine is far more holistic.
“Let’s start with modernizing the present veterinary care delivery model from a transactional model confined to drive the practice visit to an experiential model built from the pet parent up and expanding the role of veterinarians from a hands-on hero to a trusted digital guide,” she said. “Many pet health care decisions are made by the pet parent outside of the veterinary hospital, but if the veterinarian could support these decisions, it would dramatically affect the health and lifespan of the pet.
“The future of technology in pet health care must move away from ‘there’s an app for that’ to a seamless integration of pet health information from all places of care, with the veterinarian firmly inserted to ensure better decision making by the pet parent.”
Dr. Olcott sees a scenario where apps support a significantly simplified checkout.
“The future of apps will include mobile payments and exam room checkout, which is something we’re doing now to dramatically simplify the checkout process and reduce the workload on the CSR team,” he said. “We can also automate forward-booking as part of this. Checkout in most veterinary practices is a nightmare for both client and CSRs. We can do better.”
Dr. Santi envisions pet care and remote communication working hand in hand.
“I think apps will bring more interactive ways to manage your pet’s health care, ranging from on-demand virtual health exams to talking to your pet in the cage, to sharing your pet’s experience via in-app personal nanny cams,” she said.
Schroeder, of Happy Vet, has another view: “I’d say we will see a rise in voice command activity, proximity-triggered actions and app payments.”
There are so many ways the right app can enhance your practice, your relationship with pet owners and most importantly, pet health — from reward programs driving increased revenue and compliance to wearable technology delivering new revenue opportunities and better patient care. The ways in which mobile app technology will continue to enhance the relationship with veterinarians and their pet owners is truly limitless.
I strongly encourage all practices to conduct their own research, call multiple providers, and ultimately determine which is the right fit for your specific needs. This is especially important considering there’s no one right approach to integrating new technologies into your day-to-day operations.
The only real mistake a practice can make is choosing to have no app at all.