Making Sense of the Overwhelming Options in Veterinary Technology
By Pam Foster
March 26, 2019
Guiding practices to help your customers make confident technology decisions
Connected practice management systems. Client communication apps. Real-time telemedicine. Integrated diagnostic reports. Smart collars that send patient vital signs back to the practice. These are just a few areas where new technology is emerging at a breathtaking pace.
Yes, innovative technologies are very exciting because they offer practices more efficient and informed patient-care and practice-management options, but it’s hard for practice teams to know which technologies will help them the most. So many choices!
As an animal health sales rep, you can be a major part of the solution, guiding practices to confident technology decisions as you help them assess their needs.
To help you consider your role and how to approach technology conversations with your customers, we interviewed Adam Little, DVM, Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer at FuturePet. Dr. Little sees a near future in which real-time, personalized medicine for animals is possible. He believes veterinarians are the drivers of that future, leading global change.
Managing today’s overwhelming technology options
Dr. Little provided context on today’s pet-owner expectations and their relationships with various solutions.
“When I talk about today’s technology, I start by stepping back to look at larger trends on pet ownership and veterinary care. There are more pets than ever before, owners are emotionally closer to them, and new technologies are providing concierge services. More money was invested in startups in the first half of 2018 than the entire previous year. Most of the startups offer help for pet owners: Rover and Wag, for instance. Investors spent $450 million to support dog boarding/sitting/walking networks.”
These models are developing deep relationships with pet owners – delivering highly tailored products, etc.
In contrast, pet owners spend only .009 percent of their time at a vet clinic per year, Little says. “It’s challenging for practices to build strong and vibrant bonds in general during that short amount of time.” Being able to extend the veterinary relationship prior to and long after visits will be critical. Regarding these apps, they are building a different experience with owners that includes frequent touch points, commerce, etc. and they are digitizing trust.
Pet owners are getting care in different ways now, too. “They’re more apt to shop around,” Little says. For instance, they may go to a wellness clinic for affordable vaccinations versus a sick-pet visit at their “regular” vet. “It doesn’t mean the client doesn’t like his or her regular vet, but it’s cheaper and more convenient to go elsewhere at times.”
Today, there’s an influx of different care models offering pet owners alternatives to traditional care models. For instance, there are five or six “Uber for vet care”-style services with paid memberships or a la carte, pay-as-you-go. The pet owner presses a button and a professional shows up at the house.
“This means people are not seeing the vet as the only relationship with their pets anymore,” says Little. “They’re just NOT. Our industry has struggled to retain control over areas that were based on price and convenience. We need our services to be a differentiator and then use that data, experience, and trust to fuel product growth. But it doesn’t work if you aren’t hitting a certain baseline in terms of ease of access, cost, etc.”
In short, practices need to find ways to be more involved and in control, but what’s the solution?
Never have there been more tools or technologies available to vets to compete with alternatives, Little says. “And, these tools are radically changing in front of you; but they’re thrust onto practitioners, which leads to quite a bit of stress.”
When you visit practices, you’re likely to hear, “I have no time or capacity – and now, here are all the things I should do such as text reminders, shared data, and increase productivity. The expectations on me are impossibly high.”
Here’s a specific example. Several companies have tools that help automate marketing to clients – customized for medical conditions, specific breeds, ages, etc. – delivering content designed to promote healthy practices. These tools send out 100 different pieces of communication to the client. The veterinarian thinks, “That sounds overwhelming to me. Do people really want to be contacted that often?”
So, what do veterinarians want?
From Dr. Little’s perspective, it comes down to three things:
- • “Veterinarians want to be able to practice the medicine they believe is necessary for pets. Imagine you were a plumber, and you knew the exact tool to use to stop the leaky pipe, but it was just out of reach. Being a veterinarian is difficult because oftentimes, you have tools at your disposal, but you’re not able to use them.”
- • “Veterinarians don’t like confrontation. In general, as information becomes more easily available (both correct and incorrect) the concept of an ‘expert’ shifts. It can be frustrating, exhausting, and threatening to always feel like you’re having to defend yourself, your choices, and your care. This speaks to the trust that needs to be developed.”
- • “Veterinarians want to focus. This gets to the credit card analogy. Most veterinarians aren’t looking for more things to do and want to get back to focusing on patient care. The tools don’t work seamlessly together. Vets won’t be able to deal with 30 different reminder systems as many different companies are trying to be the end all/be all now.”•
How can sales reps help with their customers’ innovation paralysis?
- • First, consider that each practice operates differently. “Not all practices are alike, right? One practice may be progressive while another is more ‘old school’ in its approach. One may offer an expansive suite of services, while another may focus on routine medical care only. Assess the different practice types in your territory and perhaps group them in ways that help you adapt your consulting approach for each ‘type.’”
- • Plan to audit each practice’s current systems. “Understand how the practice works. Have they reached a point where they have four different competing reminder systems? Help them step back and look at the tools they love and build from there. Tools don’t exist in isolation. You and your customers need to understand how their tools impact workflow upstream and downstream. Keep in mind that receptionists may be the most knowledgeable on the practice’s client-communication or billing tools since they do the tasks every day.”
- • Be familiar with different technologies and what they offer. “When you know how they work, you can avoid introducing solutions that will be hard to incorporate into the customer’s current system. You can guide them to the right tools and help them quickly bring those tools into their operations.
- • Understand the nature of the relationship that practices have with their clients today. “Before introducing a solution that involves touchpoints with pet owners, ask your customer how the team already communicates with clients – and if they’re adjusting their communications for different types of clients. Automating the process isn’t going to be embraced because ‘We don’t talk to our clients that way.’ Help the practice discover tools that help drive better outcomes. Be selective in what you offer, since solutions aren’t going to be one size fits all.”
- • Keep in mind that practices may resist giving over control. “Try helping practices identify the early adopters and see for themselves how a new tool might make a big difference. Say something like, ‘We want to show you something new, so let’s look at your top 500 clients [based on criteria] that may be a great fit for this.’ Try it out, make sure it’s effective, then expand to your client base.’ This approach may win over more of your customers.”
Dr. Little’s final note is that sales reps are more in control than they might think. He said, “Yes, today’s technology options are overwhelming. I think the idea of a ‘technology coach’ is something more practices will gravitate towards”:
- • Help me understand what’s out there
- • Help me understand where we’re falling short
- • Help me implement a new solution
- • Help me train my staff, market to clients, etc.
- • Help me measure
You can help clear the overwhelm and be a Sherpa that bring practices safely through the night.