The 21st Century Visit to the Vet: Fusing Online and Offline Interactions

There is little doubt that today’s clients are a different “animal” than the generations before them. They are more connected, closer to their pets, and are spending money at record rates. As a veterinarian this new world can be challenging to adjust to. The combination of competitive threats from new service models, coupled with the growing expectations from clients, can make veterinarians feel like they are fighting a losing battle. But are they?

Do traditional veterinary clinics stand a chance in this new world? Most folks usually fall into one of two camps in this debate. One camp feels that veterinary clinics today are antiquated and that a single company is going to come in and “disrupt” the space to the detriment of practitioners. The other camp believes that veterinary medicine is far too complex and that digital models of care will never replace the role of the veterinarian and that these concerns are hyperboles. I believe there is a third choice and it lies in the middle of those extremes: the existing veterinary model is indeed stale, but clinics can position themselves to not just survive, but thrive. However, this third way requires practitioners to think differently about the role of their practices.

Amazon owns book stores. It seems difficult to imagine that the company that is most famous for digitizing books and subsequently outcompeting most popular chain stores would open stores. Apple has some of the most valuable retail spaces in the world. Beautiful locations which create rich experiences for customers to the point that the stores operate almost as tourist destinations. Both of these companies could operate entirely in the virtual space, but physical space has value. We are seeing how even e-commerce first companies are leveraging brick and mortar locations to provide their customers with a complete experience. The key is recognizing which parts of the experience are best delivered outside of the store, which parts are best delivered within, and how to connect them. For example, online clothing companies are creating physical stores not to carry inventory, but rather as high-fitting rooms, complete with stylists, to complement the online journey customers are on.

Veterinary clinics were designed for a world of information scarcity and have been operated as such for decades. The experience started and stopped at the front door and there wasn’t an expectation of anything more. This is simply no longer the case. Veterinary clinics need to begin to see themselves as connected service providers that not just restrained four walls and 9-5 office hours. Over the past several years, we have seen an explosion of new tools and technologies to help support practices in achieving this. However, too often practices still view these solutions as disparate parts instead of pieces of puzzle that need to be joined together to create a seamless experience. For example, while many practices allow for clients to fill out paperwork ahead of the appointment, rarely does this translate into an appointment that is more personalized or more efficient. It isn’t enough to simply utilize these new technologies, but rather they need to be woven together in an effort to create consistency for clients.

In summary, practices shouldn’t be seeking out tech for tech’s sake. Instead, practitioners should focus on the entire client experience and how these tools can serve clients in a more connected, personalized, and efficient manner. We shouldn’t fear the reality that pet owners want to be empowered with tools that allow them to make decisions and take action both in and outside of the clinic. Whether this is asking questions about their pet’s health, ordering medications, or scheduling an appointment, we need to lower the barriers to access and instead create new digital channels through which meaningful in-person interactions can be facilitated. More fundamentally, this involves shifting the clinic’s focus from a unidirectional information, service, and product provider to becoming a relationship businesses. We cannot feel threatened by the fact that clients have information at their fingertips, but embrace that engagement and harness it towards more collaborative decisions for their pet.

Imagine if your clients could easily reach out via text message if they had questions about their pet’s health. Instead of having to repeat basic information about their pet, the service on the other end had all of their information and could concentrate on the current issue at hand. Once it was determined that the pet needed to see the veterinarian, they were automatically booked in for a visit and that information was seamlessly sent to the clinic so that when the pet arrived, the veterinary team knew exactly what was going on and how to proceed. The client would have the context for why the visit was necessary and be much more engaged in their pet’s health. On the other side, the clinic could be more efficient and deliver a higher quality experience for both the patient and client. The digital world shouldn’t detract from a client’s experience, but rather enhance it and that focus will bring a renewed sense of purpose to our “antiqued” practice model.

Dr. Adam Little is a veterinarian and entrepreneur who works on creative solutions to addressing human and animal health issues. He has a BSc and DVM from the University of Guelph and is the first veterinarian to attend Singularity University, a prestigious Silicon Valley-based institution which explores the fast moving technologies and their impact on the world. In addition to serving as a Board Member with the Catalyst Council and Veterinarians without Borders, Dr Little serves on faculty with Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine Biomedical Sciences as Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.  Dr. Little is the President of Exponential Vet Inc., where he assists veterinary stakeholders in harnessing the rapid of pace of change to grow their business. He is also co-founder of FuturePet which is building technology to upgrade the client experience of veterinary practices.

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