The changing role of the veterinary professional
How will the role of vets have to evolve in a precision medicine future? That was the question considered by Guen Bradbury, of Innovia Technology. She began with the following definition of precision medicine: “An approach to medicine where we consider an animal’s genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors in our diagnosis, management and prognosis of disease.”
However, she said, what actually needs to be considered is personalised treatment – how to be sure that an individual was being given the right care.
Breaking down a vet’s role into three main elements – skills, knowledge and relationship building – she discussed how each might have to evolve for vets to find the value in precision medicine.
Thinking about skills – how vets acquire information from an animal or a client, whether directly or through technology – she said that whatever the future looked like, there would undoubtedly be a lot more data to deal with. Vets therefore had to become comfortable learning about new software, and looking at and considering data from multiple sensors, new imaging modalities, genetic reports and black box algorithms. They would also have to be able to filter data and identify what was important and useful.
Turning to knowledge – how vets analyse the information they acquire – Dr Bradbury said that the amount of new knowledge being generated was “far too much for any one individual to keep on top of”. Clients and farmers are also accessing vast amounts of data about their own animals that vets did not have access to. This means that vets could no longer be seen as the source of all knowledge, and the value that vets delivered to their clients had to change. “We can think of it as moving from knowing data to knowing what to do with data,” she said.
Vets will find themselves out of their comfort zone in dealing with all the data available, and will need to know where to seek help. At present, the specialists that they seek help from are typically within the profession, but this will change and, in future, vets will be seeking help from a wide range of outside specialists too.
When it came to relationship building – how vets translate the output of their skills and knowledge into a bespoke treatment plan for an animal – Dr Bradbury argued that vets need to move from being late service providers to being early advisers. “If we’re going to realise the value of precision medicine, we need to be seeing animals early in a disease’s progress. If we get the data early enough, we can intervene and we can change the course of that disease. If we don’t see them at the right time, no matter how good, how amazing our new-found abilities are, we cannot use them to give value.”
Vets have been used to having animals that were “basically sick” and animals that were “basically healthy”, but as technology develops there would be an increasing number of “patients in waiting” – animals that have risk factors for a disease, but it was not known when, or even whether, they would develop that disease. Vets, therefore, would have an increasing role in helping their clients to navigate this new, uncertain world.
However, Dr Bradbury concluded, despite all the changes ahead, society would still need vets to ensure the health and welfare of the animals under their care.