Anthony Roberts, former RCVS Director of Leadership and Innovation

ViVet reflections

Anthony Roberts MA (Hons), MBA, DipCIPR, MCIPR, FRSAFormer RCVS Director of Leadership and Innovation

Anthony led the ViVet programme and was responsible for the delivery of the RCVS strategic ambition to become a Royal College with leadership and innovation at its heart. Anthony holds an MBA with Distinction from Warwick Business School, where he focussed his studies on strategy, entrepreneurship and organisational behaviour. Anthony Roberts has since left the RCVS and now works as Director of PRI Academy at Principles for Responsible Investment.

In his parting blog, Anthony reflects on the first three years of the ViVet project and the need for regulators to take a proactive approach to innovation has never been greater.

The animal health industry is experiencing a period of unprecedented change: new technologies are developing exponentially, new business models are emerging and investment is flowing into the sector. Meanwhile, we are closer to our pets than ever before and want to treat their health like we would any other member of our family.

In recent months Covid-19 led to veterinary professionals rapidly adapting and using technology so that they could continue to provide critical animal health and welfare services, even in the midst of a global pandemic, thus further hastening the pace of change in the sector. As a consequence, the veterinary professions are on the verge of an innovation revolution and, over the next decade, they will see more change than they have over the last 50 years.

Telehealth, wearable and implantable devices, artificial intelligence and big data, for example, potentially present veterinary professionals with opportunities to improve the veterinary services they provide, engage with their clients and facilitate access to veterinary care.  

The Vet Futures research warned, however, that ‘vets could miss out, if they failed to be proactive about grasping the opportunities’ innovation brings. Veterinary professionals therefore need to demonstrate they ‘not only welcome but are driving, innovation in animal health’.

Traditionally, regulators have shied away from engaging with innovation perhaps for fear of the risk it inherently entails, but regulators do not engage with innovation, then emerging technology and business models will develop regardless, leaving consumers unprotected whilst regulators play catch up.

In the current period of rapid technological change, the old approach is no longer working.  ’Anticipatory regulation’ is becoming accepted as best practice, in which regulators take a proactive approach to innovation, engaging stakeholders about the issues it raises and seeking to create future-proof frameworks which, in rapidly changing markets, will protect the public whilst at the same time fostering innovation.

For this reason, three years ago the RCVS launched ViVet, an ambitious and wide-ranging programme designed to support and foster innovation in the veterinary sector. ViVet is driven by the mission of ‘enabling creative veterinary solutions for the good of animal health and welfare’.

Building on the inaugural Symposium, held at Warwick Business School in the Shard, London, in the first year ViVet focused on showcasing innovation to help veterinary professionals to horizon-scan, and understand the impact of innovation, how the market is evolving and the opportunities innovation could provide.

The second year saw ViVet provide practical support to help veterinary professionals drive innovation. This featured online resources and in-person events, including a series of innovation workshops hosted in Cambridge and an innovation evening at the University of Edinburgh’s Easter Bush Campus. The year concluded with the second Innovation Symposium, this time focusing on Precision Veterinary Medicine and the move to a new age of data-driven practice.

Since launch, ViVet has published numerous expert blogs and case studies from thought-leaders, been invited to contribute to national and international conferences and publications, grown a significant following and influence on social media, and met with innovators from within and outwith the profession, seeking guidance on how to develop their ideas, maximise their impact, and comply with regulation.

The programme has been applauded by veterinary regulators globally and has expanded the reach and influence of the RCVS, leading to wider conversations about how regulators could manage innovation on a global level.

ViVet has had more tangible benefits too, helping veterinary professionals to launch new businesses and those outside to engage with the profession to refine the products and services they are developing, so as to better serve the needs of the profession and animal health.

Whilst like many business Covid-19 significantly disrupted ViVet’s planned programme of events for 2020, the pandemic has further demonstrated the resilience of the veterinary profession and capacity of veterinary professionals to innovate and lead change. It has also highlighted the importance of a regulator that can adapt to a changing world, as demonstrated by the RCVS when it provided up-to-date advice on how veterinary professionals should work during the pandemic, temporarily allowed the remote prescribing of POM-V medicines so that animals could still receive much needed treatment during lockdown, and engaged with the profession to understand the economic impact of Covid-19 on veterinary businesses.

As I leave the RCVS and the veterinary sector, the need for the ViVet programme and a proactive regulatory approach to innovation has never been greater. The next ten years will see profound changes in veterinary medicine and there will be disruption to existing business models. Nevertheless, if the veterinary professions lead and embrace this change and regulators, such as the RCVS, adapt to the changing market, there will be unprecedented opportunities to improve the quality, efficacy and accessibility of veterinary care.

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