Panel debate 1

Panel debate 1 – Here and now: telemedicine, wearables and big data

In the first of two debates at the Symposium, delegates had the opportunity to put questions to a panel of innovators in the field of animal health technology. The session began with each panellist briefly describing their particular approach to innovation.

Dr James Andrews

James Andrews, a vet, entrepreneur and co-founder of Felcana, described Felcana as an animal health data company that used powerful analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence to get a better understanding of what an animal was doing 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The company believed that all animals would be connected to the internet by 2025 and was due to launch its first product shortly. Two more products were due to launch in 2018.

James Andrews, a vet, entrepreneur and co-founder of Felcana, described Felcana as an animal health data company that used powerful analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence to get a better understanding of what an animal was doing

Felcana was working with animal health companies, pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, food companies and veterinary practices to develop new solutions to the problems that they faced. Dr Andrews said that rather than standing on the sidelines and watching other people innovate around them, vets had to start innovating themselves.

Dr Nuala Summerfield

Nuala Summerfield, veterinary cardiologist and founder of Virtual Veterinary Specialists, noted that in the UK, there were approximately 24,000 practising vets, but that fewer than 4% were RCVS-recognised Specialists. This meant that access to the best veterinary expertise could be limited. Virtual Veterinary Specialists aimed to use technology to address this problem, allowing virtual, real-time collaboration between GP vets and specialists, making interactions with specialists easy and part of everyday practice life, regardless of geographical constraints. The system used an integrated software and hardware platform that was secure, user-friendly and transportable. All the platform required was an internet connection. It allowed video-based collaboration and real-time data feeds so that a specialist could see an animal remotely and assess the data being gathered. The GP vet could perform all the diagnostic investigations needed under the real-time guidance of the specialist.

Virtual Veterinary Specialists aimed to use technology to address this problem, allowing virtual, real-time collaboration between GP vets and specialists, making interactions with specialists easy and part of everyday practice life

A large proof-of-concept trial of the system had recently been completed successfully and plans for rolling it out more widely were being made. The aim was to develop a virtual, multidisciplinary service that could be accessed on demand.

Francesco Cardoletti

Another form of telemedicine was described by Francesco Cardoletti of Pawsquad. In this case the aim was to offer clients a more convenient form of primary care, through both online video consultation and home visits. The online video consultations offered clients easy access to veterinary expertise, reducing the impulse to search for information elsewhere, while the home visit service offered both convenience for the client and a less stressful experience for the pet.

Pawsquad had discovered that about 40 per cent of the clients who had used its service for their pets had not been to a vet in two or more years.

The online video consultations offered clients easy access to veterinary expertise, reducing the impulse to search for information elsewhere, while the home visit service offered both convenience for the client and a less stressful experience for the pet.

Vets using the Pawsquad model were not employed by the company. Instead, the company provided vets with a ‘practice in a box’ – basically all the tools needed for them to build their own practice. Vets made the initial investment and could then manage their own schedules, leading to a better work-life balance.

From the company’s point of view, this approach meant it could easily scale up its operations without having to greatly increase its staff levels. It could also gather lots of data on the animals that were being seen, using this to inform preventive healthcare strategies.

Professor Ivan Andonovic

The final member of the panel, Professor Ivan Andonovic of the University of Strathclyde, described the development of the Silent Herdsman system, which enables cattle keepers to monitor their animals. The system, which uses technology built into a ‘smart collar’, sends data to a PC and can tell a keeper when a cow needs inseminating and can also raise alerts if an animal is unwell.

Professor Andonovic said that the system had been developed to help solve fertility problems in the dairy industry. He stressed that it was not intended to replace human input, rather it was a decision support tool. Its development had benefitted from the input of a range of expertise, including that of vets and herdsmen.

The system, which uses technology built into a ‘smart collar’, sends data to a PC and can tell a keeper when a cow needs inseminating and can also raise alerts if an animal is unwell.

He commented that, as technology in general decreased in cost and became increasingly energy efficient, it would offer cost-effective solutions in many areas; however, it was vital that it was adopted by the users it was aimed at.

Delegates asked a range of questions following these introductions. These included how the panellists had made the step from good idea to actual product or service, how they derived value from the product or service that they offered and how their early experiences with customers had shaped product development.

The panellists were also asked how their product contributed to veterinary knowledge and whether the professional regulatory environment helped, hindered or had no impact on their innovation.

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