Dan Holland is the Chief Development Officer at Valley Veterinary Care. He has over 25 years of professional experience in the animal health care, software, and media industries.Read Articles Written by Dan Holland
If the only true technology constant is change, then 2020 has been an exemplar for technology in the veterinary industry. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, veterinary clinics of all sizes have been forced to reconcile with technology changes in adapting their workflows. While change can be stressful and disruptive, it can have a silver lining. Here are three examples.
1. Software Goes Mobile, Even Curbside
When cloud software debuted in the veterinary industry, one of the selling features was the ability to access your practice’s data anywhere and from any device. While that promise was intriguing, the user experience on a mobile phone wasn’t always the same as on a desktop computer. As practitioners and clients pushed the demand to operate from their smartphones, cloud software struggled to deliver on the promise of true work mobility.
Mobile apps solved that problem. Today when we think of mobile access, we usually mean apps for phones and tablets that are downloaded to the device and set up with login credentials. Because they are designed to work with the device, mobile apps often provide better performance and a better user experience than just using the browser version of your software on your phone.
Many non-veterinary brands offer a mobile app that lets you complete most tasks as well as if you were on a computer, and the tasks you complete on your mobile app automatically sync with the software. Why not take advantage of that with your veterinary software? Think about how this can save time and speed efficiency in your daily workflow.
A few practice management software systems now have robust mobile apps to complement their software platforms. These go much further than simply checking appointment calendars and accessing patient records from your phone.
A robust mobile app will allow you to do most of the tasks on your phone that you do on your software, such as:
- Booking an appointment for a client when you are away from the clinic.
- Checking in patients and taking vitals using your phone to prevent front-desk bottlenecks. You can even check in patients from the parking lot.
- Creating invoices and accepting payments from clients while they are still in the exam room or in their vehicles.
- Forward-booking a client’s next appointment before she leaves the parking lot.
All this enables more freedom and flexibility both inside and outside of the practice because staff members aren’t tied to a specific workstation or location. It’s also beneficial as more and more practices have had to incorporate curbside check-in and even curbside exams during COVID-19. As practice management apps mature and become more functional, they will become an industry standard to truly work from anywhere.
2. Medicine Goes Remote
Telemedicine is widely used in human medicine, so it was only a matter of time before the veterinary industry adopted the technology. The pandemic accelerated the trend, disrupting the industry for a short time before veterinary practices were allowed to continue seeing patients in line with social-distancing guidelines. The veterinary community’s innovation and adoption of telemedicine during the pandemic has been one of the most impressive technology uptakes in memory.
Several of the major practice management software systems responded quickly as well by integrating telemedicine capability into the software. This makes it easier for practices to implement the option, as they don’t have to evaluate and sign up with a teleconference or video conference vendor to facilitate telemedicine. With just a few clicks, you can generate a video conference link and either schedule a video conference or initiate a call without leaving your software.
All you need is a high-speed internet connection and a computer, tablet or mobile phone.
Think of the benefits of implementing telemedicine through your practice management software. You don’t have to worry about adding another vendor to the mix, and you don’t have to leave your software to schedule, initiate or host the appointment. That equates to greater efficiency and more time saved, and perhaps more appointment slots.
A telemedicine visit is still an appointment, however, so state regulations and industry best practices still apply. Plus, you’ll want to take advantage of your software’s invoicing, inventory and reminder capabilities, which work best when the medical record is up to date.
Telemedicine will continue to evolve as practices look to expand their offerings and customers demand the convenience of telehealth. Full-service offerings with mobile, desktop and browser-based interfaces allowing for billing options, medical record integrations, smart calendar access, automated follow-ups and auto script refills will grow to be the norm in our industry over the next five years.
3. Technology Assists With Diagnoses
Have you noticed longer and longer turnaround times when you send radiographs to a specialist for reading? The trend for many of the large corporate groups and emergency and specialty hospitals is to have boarded radiologists doing over-reads of all radiographs to more closely follow standards of care in human medicine. Fast turnaround times have become the new currency in radiology services, as it’s not unusual for a non-STAT turnaround time to reach several days.
What if technology could help alleviate the caseload imbalance between radiographs and the specialists who read them?
Artificial intelligence (AI) is entering both the veterinary and human medical markets to help get more done in less time. In the case of veterinary radiology, AI can automate routine radiology readings, saving the more difficult cases for the limited supply of specialists.
The best use of AI technology is to tie it in with your practice management software so that all radiology images, once uploaded, can be automatically scanned and evaluated. Results are available in minutes, not hours or days, allowing the veterinarian to evaluate the findings quickly, provide diagnoses and recommendations to the pet owner while she is still in the office, and begin treatment immediately.
Some veterinarians might not feel comfortable trusting radiograph interpretation to a computer rather than a trained specialist, while others worry that AI might replace radiology specialists. But AI and radiology specialists work best when they work together. One would never replace the other.
AI is based on algorithms that are trained to reliably interpret abnormalities in a pet’s radiographs. Think of AI as transferring radiologists’ knowledge and experience onto a computer chip. The quality of AI is dependent on the knowledge, experience and skills of the specialists who train it initially and who continue to improve it over time.
AI sometimes catches things that humans miss and humans sometimes catch things that AI misses. Since AI is only as smart as the input it has received from the industry, both AI and humans have similar error rates. The more input AI receives from veterinarians and radiologists, the smarter it gets, and results become more and more consistent.
AI’s greatest strength is screening large numbers of cases in a short amount of time and with very consistent results, freeing up veterinarians and radiology specialists to focus on the screenings that require more human input. When AI is tied in with practice management software, it’s fast and affordable to have every radiograph screened as part of the standards of care.
AI-assisted radiographs will become much like lab results today, for which veterinarians can decide to interpret or seek a specialist to help in areas outside of their comfort level. While radiology might be the first area of veterinary medicine to benefit from AI, it will not be the last. As data sources and AI engines become more sophisticated, look for AI to assist in many areas of animal health in the coming years.
If you think one or more of these advancements will help your practice deliver better medicine in a more efficient manner, talk to your software provider about whether advanced mobile apps, telemedicine and AI are available or will be available soon. As we’ve seen from the 2020 pandemic, it pays to be prepared.