November 28, 2014

Looking Ahead: Veterinary Healthcare in 2020 (Part 1)

Veterinary healthcare is changing. What more, the pace of change is accelerating as advances in technology - primarily those associated with cloud, mobile and big data - open the door to a slew of new tools and treatments. What will veterinary healthcare look like in 2020? I’ll attempt to answer this question by examining emerging technologies and parallels in human healthcare. The first part of this two-part article will examine the impact that cloud technology and big data will have on veterinary healthcare.

Everything Goes to the Cloud

Cloud technology has disrupted every aspect of our lives - from the way we communicate to the way we run our businesses. The positive impact that cloud technology is having on veterinary healthcare is evident. Veterinarians, like so many other professionals, can now access their records from anywhere any time they need them. The days of paper records are over, as are the hassle and expense of managing server hardware, software upgrades, server security and support contracts. Practices can now focus on what they do best - caring for their patients.

Cloud technology also enables the collation and sharing of data more cheaply and efficiently than has ever been possible. As data becomes available in greater volume and from a larger number of sources, we will see an emergence of new applications that use the data in innovative ways. The value extracted from the data will encourage more sharing and further innovation. Anyone who fails to participate in the exchange of data risks obsolescence.

Conclusion: In 2020, veterinary healthcare will be managed predominantly in the cloud. Cloud technology will be the foundation upon which data-driven innovation will flourish.

Data Is Everywhere

Advances in technology will greatly facilitate the collection of data, which means that we can expect to see a dramatic increase in the number of data sources. Existing data sources, such as laboratory, imaging and other diagnostics, will certainly push results into the cloud. This change is already happening. What is more interesting though, is that technology, particularly cloud- and mobile-related technology, will enable an explosion of new data from owners, non-veterinary service providers and the animals themselves.

Cloud and mobile technologies will allow owners to more directly participate in managing the health of their animals. Mobile apps, hardware devices and web-based services that allow owners to record information about the home life of the animals - from the type of food that the animal eats to how often it goes to the bathroom - will become commonplace. We’re already seeing an influx of new hardware devices for the home that can be controlled remotely. PetNet, for example, offers a pet feeder that can be controlled remotely via a mobile application. Tools such as these can help track animal eating habits and ultimately improve the health of the animal.

Third-party service providers will also contribute. As diagnostic tools become cheaper, smaller and simpler to operate, new businesses that offer testing options outside of the clinic will sprout up everywhere. For instance, companies like Theranos, which is poised to disrupt lab testing for humans and has recently announced a partnership with Walgreen’s, can easily expand into veterinary healthcare through partnerships with PetSmart and Petco. It is also easy to foresee an increase in the availability of home diagnostic toolkits such as blood glucose meters (such as the one sold by Abbott), urine testing kits (such as the one being developed by Scanadu) and even genetic testing kits (such as the one that was offered by 23andMe). These tools are shipped directly to the owner’s home, and the results can be transmitted back to the practitioner.

Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, the animals themselves will contribute a substantial amount of data. This data will be collected from devices that the animals wear. The data from these devices is transmitted wirelessly to mobile applications or web-based services. These devices will measure everything from the animal’s activity and rest (such as the one offered by Whistle), to the animal’s vital signs (such as the device offered by Voyce). The wearable offered by Play-Tag even stores the animal’s medical records, which can be easily accessed in the event of an emergency.

Conclusion: In 2020, data will be collected from many different sources, most of which will be outside of the clinic, including home diagnostic kits and devices that are worn by the animals. The influx of data will fundamentally change the way treatment decisions are made.

Up Next...

The second part of the article will examine how big data will improve patient care and how veterinary healthcare will evolve in response to new tools and insights.