Looking Ahead: Veterinary Healthcare in 2020 (Part 2)

This two-part article explores the question of what veterinary healthcare will look like in 2020. The first part (published here) examined the impact that cloud technology and big data. The second part will examine how patient care will be impacted, and how veterinary healthcare will evolve in response to new tools and insights.

Data-Driven Care

Today’s clinic is mired by paper records, disjointed data sources and limited access to benchmarks. Treatments are usually based on a manual and tedious process of collecting and analyzing data from labs and diagnostics, first-hand observations and owners. But this data does not tell the whole story. The reality is that pets are often left unattended, symptoms often go unnoticed and lab results often provide limited insight.

It seems obvious then that if any aspect of veterinary healthcare has to change over the next ten years, it is that practitioners need better access to more relevant data. In order to improve patient care, we must understand the patient as a whole. We must strive to collect as much data as we can about every aspect of the patient’s life - from the obvious, such as how much they weighs, to the not-so-obvious, such as how long they sleeps each day. With the right data, potentially life-saving preventative treatments could be instituted well before the patient begins showing symptoms of the underlying condition. Only when all of this data is pulled together into a central repository can we truly start to form a complete picture of a patient’s well-being.

Conclusion: In 2020, data will inform most treatment decisions for the practitioner and the owner. The collation of data from disparate sources will provide early insight into possible health concerns with greater accuracy, which will in turn help in predicting and controlling healthcare costs.

A New Standard for Veterinary Healthcare

Veterinary healthcare will change as health data becomes ubiquitous and a central part of providing care. Relevant and timely data will provide better insights into the overall well-being of a patient. Armed with a better sense of what is normal for a patient, practitioners will begin planning for the future health of the animal instead of treating conditions that already exist. A preventative healthcare philosophy is broadly accepted in human healthcare as one that is more effective at keeping patients healthy and reducing overall healthcare costs. It will have the same impact in veterinary healthcare.

However, it is important to realize that underpinning the success of a preventative healthcare model is the acknowledgment that each patient is different, and that treatment must therefore be personalized to that patient. As practitioners learn more about their patients through data they can do much more to tailor health plans and treatments for each patient. A personalized care plan is more likely to keep the patient healthy, which in turns reduces costs associated with treatment of preventable conditions. Consequently, we gain greater visibility into the overall costs of treating a patient, which creates an environment that is conducive to the growth of insurance offerings and alternative treatment options.

As veterinary healthcare changes, the role of the practitioner will change by definition. The practitioner will play a much larger role in identifying potential problems by analyzing data. It will also mean that the practitioner will spend more time developing health plans and helping patients (and their owners) live healthier lives. But as diagnostics move away from the clinic, less will be invested in offering these services at the clinic. Instead, the clinic will become the place that is predominantly used for providing treatment. In fact, as diagnostic tools become smaller, cheaper and mobile, practitioners will be able to add concierge services to their existing brick-and-mortar practice, or abandon the brick-and-mortar practice altogether in favor of a mobile one.

Health-related data from pets will also empower pet owners to make better decisions about their personal health (and that of their family). Overall health, fitness and activity tracking will become a family activity where pets become not only better monitored at home, but an integral part of family health activities. For example, seeing that a pet is not getting enough exercise might encourage the owner to go for a walk.

Conclusion: In 2020, veterinary healthcare will be well on its way to adopting a preventative healthcare model and health plans and treatment options will become more personalized. Better data will help predict and control healthcare costs, which will ultimately result in greater availability of treatment and insurance options. The practitioner will evolve into a health coach and data analyst in larger part than ever before. As diagnostics shift to locations outside of the clinic, the clinic will be predominantly the place where treatment is provided, and more mobile services will be available.

Conclusion

Five years may not seem like a long time from now. However, five years is a lifetime in the technology world. Advances in cloud, mobile and big data are propelling change in every industry, including veterinary healthcare. Now is the time to think about how these changes can be leveraged to innovate new treatments, new business models and new career opportunities in veterinary healthcare. In my opinion, this is a unique opportunity for veterinary healthcare to leapfrog human healthcare from a patient care and a thought leadership perspective.