VCA Sets the Standards for Digital Products and Innovations
Every January, technology innovators and leaders gather in Las Vegas to show off their latest creations at the Consumer Electronics Show, including products such as dog collars and bird feeders with built-in artificial intelligence. At VCA, we've long been on the cutting edge of innovation and pushing for solutions that benefit pets and the people who love them, today and tomorrow.
The future of veterinary medicine will bring about a seamless pairing of digital and virtual innovations that complements and supports in-person care. But we’ll only see the full value of these technologies if they are thoughtfully deployed. At VCA, we’re focused on solutions that enable our teams to spend more time with clients and their pets, while removing some of the challenges that can distract from the joy of veterinary medicine. Minimizing those distractions will help improve the lives of professionals in the field. And creating more time to spend caring for pets also means animals and their owners will have greater access to care.
Here are five innovation trends we believe are poised to revolutionize the future of veterinary medicine.
Access to triage support—anywhere, anytime.
We live in an always-on world where most of our needs can be met on demand. Need more paper towels? They can be ordered with a click and arrive within hours. Soon, veterinary care will be just a click away, too.
For example, VCA offers free Live Chat with a credentialed veterinary technician—any time of day and any time of year through the myVCA App, with a prompt response time.
"We offer Live Chat support to millions of our clients and provided teletriage support to more than 145,000 of them in 2022," says Rachel Turner, Virtual Care Technician Manager at VCA. "We're able to provide peace of mind and medical support. Our in-house team of technicians can provide guidance for pet needs and what the client should do to get that help."
Live Chat also helps VCA expand access to care because it helps answer pet owners' questions and avoid unnecessary visits to the hospital.
"We provide teletriage even when the hospitals are not open," Turner says. With teletriage, a VCA credentialed veterinary technician can quickly assess the information shared by a pet owner during a Live Chat to advise whether the issue is an emergency and requires in-person care.
The most common questions on Live Chat concern gastrointestinal issues, according to Turner. "Many of the situations we see are related to vomiting or diarrhea," she says. "It’s understandably unsettling for owners and this is where our triage skills come in. We can work through the situation with the owner."
VCA is one of the only veterinary networks that offers fully-integrated teletriage. Conversations that take place in Live Chat are automatically logged to clients’ pet profiles so the in-person hospital care team can have easy access to the information, providing continuity of care between virtual and in-person teams.
The doctor will see you now, on video.
At the onset of the COVID pandemic, many animal hospitals quickly adopted telehealth options, having conversations with clients over the phone or video when examining pets in person was not possible.
“The pandemic required an acceleration of digital adoption worldwide,” says Abe Al-Murjan, Vice President of Digital Product at VCA. “What would have taken years to adopt happened in months. We all had to move quickly to adapt and ensure continuity of care for the pets and clients we serve.”
Three years later, we’re seeing an expansion of those early efforts into true telemedicine. VCA, for example, has plans to expand telemedicine in multiple states later this year.
"Telehealth is an umbrella term that includes telemedicine as well as teleconsulting and teletriage," as Dr. Lisa Maniscalco, VCA's Director of Virtual Care, explains. "Telemedicine is a client and veterinarian interaction that can be conducted virtually."
In a telemedicine visit, a veterinarian could conduct an appointment that may have otherwise happened at the hospital, remotely diagnose your pet and prescribe certain medications—all from your mobile device and in the comfort of your own home.
Since veterinarians cannot physically examine pets during these visits, it’s important to consider how telemedicine visits complement and integrate with in-person care. Some conditions will require examination and tests to be completed at a hospital.
With that in mind, telemedicine also helps free up doctors to see those patients who most need care. "Quite a few in-person appointments could be handled with telemedicine, like skin conditions, behavior and nutrition consultations," Maniscalco says. "If the client needs to follow up, they will be more prepared when they go into the hospital and visit their veterinarian."
Veterinary telemedicine must operate within federal and state-level regulations that permit doctors to diagnose and prescribe medications. We anticipate there will likely be an expansion of virtual veterinary visits in the not-too-distant future.
"Our vision is to combine teletriage, telemedicine and hospital care for an all-inclusive patient experience that seamlessly combines digital with in-person care," Maniscalco says.
Book appointments on your schedule.
We live in an on-demand age where nearly anything can be done on our phones and delivered to our homes within hours. Traditionally, however, booking an appointment with your veterinarian means a phone call. That’s about to change.
Years in the making, VCA has developed a fully integrated, real-time, digital appointment booking system accessible through the myVCA app or on our hospitals’ websites.
"Online booking helps clients find convenient times more quickly. Booking an appointment during off hours might show an available time that would have been booked if you had to wait to call the following morning," Al-Murjan notes.
Another major benefit of digital appointment booking for hospitals is that it allows Associates to spend less time on the phone and more time with clients and their pets. "Clients are offered real-time digital appointments and Associates can better focus on clients and pets in the hospital. That's the win-win," Al-Murjan says.
Doctors get virtual, credentialed scribes.
Today, demand for pet healthcare is at its highest while the veterinary field is navigating a serious talent shortage. In this reality, time is one of the most valuable assets we can give back to our care teams, Al-Murjan says.
On average, veterinarians spend at least two hours each day typing medical notes from visits with patients. Because of the high demand for care, doctors often face a backlog of notes as they work to see as many pets as possible during the day—leading some doctors to take this work home.
Our goal is to make typing medical records a thing of the past with the help of credentialed virtual scribes.
In November 2022, we launched VCA Scribe, which is now used by over 200 doctors, with plans to support over 1,000 doctors by the end of the year. VCA Scribe allows doctors to record their dictated notes and have them transcribed by a team of credentialed technicians. Doctors can then review the transcriptions and make any final adjustments.
VCA Scribe makes it easier for our in-hospital Associates to focus on taking care of patients, and freeing up those hours of notetaking means more time spent caring for patients and mentoring teams.
“Doctors are able to build deeper relationships with their clients and their pets because they can spend more time with them,” says Alex Plotkin, Director of Virtual Scribes at VCA. “I've heard from multiple doctors that VCA Scribe has been life changing.”
Technology makeover for hospitals.
Pet owners and pets will begin seeing these trends converge in a new in-hospital experience. As hospitals thoughtfully embrace new technology, the physical care space has an opportunity to evolve.
In mid-2022, the first VCA Animal Hospitals Urgent Care opened in the Los Angeles area with a design that integrates technology in a purposeful way to create a better experience for our Associates, our clients and pets. VCA aims to open another 17 urgent care hospitals this year.
The purpose of urgent care animal hospitals is to treat pet conditions that aren't quite emergencies but can't wait until your primary veterinarian is available, such as vomiting, allergic reactions or lacerations.
"There's something unique about urgent care in that we have the opportunity to positively change the trajectory for a pet and client in over 95% of the cases that come in the door," says VCA's Dr. Zander Bennett, Vice President, Urgent Care Operations.
For added convenience, you can join a virtual waiting room and stay at home, making the visit less disruptive and stressful. We provide updated wait times and notify you when the veterinarian will be ready to see your pet. And for those waiting, there is access to teletriage to help assess whether their pet’s situation is urgent or critical.
VCA's urgent care hospitals are designed to reduce stress for pets and their owners. For example, visitors to VCA Animal Hospitals Urgent Care won’t hear phones ringing or experience a typical front desk. "We've created a very welcoming and comfortable environment, bringing in natural light and creating very quiet and private spaces," Dr. Bennett says. "We’re working to create the best urgent care experience.”
Veterinary care in the future.
What does the future hold for veterinary care? While veterinarians putting on virtual reality (VR) headsets and treating patients is highly unlikely, Al-Murjan says virtual reality could play a role in education and home care.
For example, veterinary students could practice in virtual surgery suites. At Colorado State University, veterinary students use VR to learn how to perform procedures such as ultrasounds, administering drugs and more. It’s also possible that pet owners could soon use augmented or virtual reality to learn basic medical care like how to change a bandage, or advice on training their dog.
Artificial intelligence (AI), where computers mimic intelligent human behavior, has “unmet potential” in veterinary medicine, according to a 2022 article in the American Journal of Veterinary Research. AI could help veterinarians perform tasks more efficiently and also provide insights for treating and managing pet health conditions. The technology is already being tested to help identify disease faster.
Digital wearable technologies, such as sensors on collars, also have significant potential in pet health care, the article notes. Much in the way that human doctors can assess smart device data from their patients, those in veterinary medicine could soon use data from sensors that track a pet’s scratching, drinking, licking and other behaviors to identify markers of illness.
These possibilities may one day enhance pet care but won’t replace in-person care, Al-Murjan emphasizes. “Technology is an exciting enabler for care that will supplement a healthy and long-lasting life for your pet, at your convenience,” he says. “That's the future of where we're headed.”
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