Dr Adam Little

Veterinary innovation in North America – challenges and opportunities

Adam Little, Director of Veterinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Texas A&M University, remarked that the coming decade will bring more change to the veterinary arena than has been seen over the past 50 years combined. An overwhelming amount of change is already happening he said, and he believed that, ultimately, change will be for the better.

He discussed four factors that will influence the veterinary field in the next 10 years.

  • People’s evolving relationship with pets
  • Empowered consumers
  • Innovation on the fringes
  • The profession’s response

Considering each in turn, he said that, nowadays, people were increasingly ‘humanising’ their animals and have closer relationships with their pets than ever before. They are prepared to spend more money on their pets. This in turn changes their expectations of the services available for their pets and the way they build relationships with the people providing such services. They need support, and businesses are springing up to meet this need.

the coming decade will bring more change to the veterinary arena than has been seen over the past 50 years combined. An overwhelming amount of change is already happening he said, and he believed that, ultimately, change will be for the better.

He described various new technologies – including trackers and remote monitoring systems – that are changing the relationship between people and pets.

Turning to the empowerment of consumers, he discussed the importance of engaging with the digital world. Technology will unlock new models of service delivery; for example, voice-activated artificial intelligence-based systems, such as Siri and Alexa, are now at a point where they are becoming really useful, he said.

As a result, people are becoming used to seeking help from these systems. So if a speaker in the home becomes the first point of advice for owners when they have health concerns about their pet, or need products or services, how will vets persuade them to come into a clinic?

Augmented reality is also developing rapidly and being used for a number of healthcare applications.

Customers will expect more robust, connected experiences, with their digital experiences shaping their ‘real life’ ones.

Innovation on the fringes occurs when new technologies develop to meet existing as well as perceived needs – examples include PayPal, Uber, Airbnb and Tesla. Each has fundamentally changed the field in which it operates and each caused significant disruption to its respective market.

Large companies can find it hard to adapt to innovative developments because their business models cannot be changed quickly, he said. As a result, many are now building innovation into their business models, looking at new ways of meeting consumers’ needs.

Machine learning technology is already being used to support decision making by doctors. Similar systems must be developed for the veterinary profession too, he suggested, to ensure that all vets have access to the support they need.

So how might the profession make the transition to the future? Current veterinary models of care are not built for the technology-rich future, he warned, and clinics might struggle to adapt. New service delivery models are already emerging, including virtual veterinary services, on-demand models and mobile veterinary services, but these are bringing issues around regulation, something that regulators and veterinary organisations around the world are struggling with.

So, the profession has to understand the forces that are constraining it, but also the opportunities that are being presented. It must be aware of the rapidity of change and of the products and solutions that may upgrade existing practices and unlock new models of care. It must also ensure that training is available to help vets engage in areas of rapid growth.

New service delivery models are already emerging, including virtual veterinary services, on-demand models and mobile veterinary services, but these are bringing issues around regulation, something that regulators and veterinary organisations around the world are struggling with.

It is not a matter of trying to hold back progress but of trying to figure out how to manage it, he said.

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