We’ve seen many changes in veterinary medicine in the two years since the pandemic began. While we might have thought that those changes would be temporary, some of them will likely be here to stay. We spoke to nine veterinarians about changes they envision. Here’s what they had to say.
*Technology will increase efficiency. “I think the pandemic has taught us a lot about where we are inefficient in a practice,” says Lori Teller, DVM, DABVP, clinical associate professor of telehealth, Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biosciences and president-elect, AVMA. “So I think what will be coming will be things that can help make us more efficient. A specific tool that may drive efficiency, she says, is an interactive dashboard from analytics firm VetSuccess, which helps to measure such factors as number of client visits and amount of revenue and allows practices to compare themselves to other practices of similar sizes and types.
“At the start of the pandemic, so much of the conversation was around telemedicine,” says Jessica Vogelsang, chief medical officer, AAHA. ‘How do I replace this visit with telemedicine?’ Really, that’s not what people need. They need to make those visits more efficient so they can serve more clients with fewer people.”
*Veterinary technicians will become an even more valuable part of a practice, more so than technology. Part of becoming more efficient will be more significant roles for veterinary technicians.
“I think an even bigger and more important thing will be a better use of our veterinary technicians and support staff, learning how you utilize them to the maximum of their skill set and what’s allowed, of course, by each state’s practice act,” Dr. Teller says.
One of the rewards of better recognition of vet tech skills may be less stress for staff, clients, and patients.
“I can see the first line of contact being trained vet techs to handle questions and triage,” says Marty Becker, DVM, founder of Fear Free Pets. “We’ll know before a pet arrives at the practice his or her FAS triggers, choice of treats to be used in ‘putting the treat into treatment,’ and even if the pet prefers males or females or prefers one vet tech over another.”
*Use of pet health insurance is increasing. According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association, nearly 3.45 million pets were insured in North America at the end of 2020, and pet health insurance has had an average annual growth rate of 23.4 percent over the past five years. That goes hand in hand with greater availability of specialized treatments and access to equipment such as MRI scanners, endoscopes, and hydrotherapy pools.
“There has been a huge uptick in clients with pet insurance, which has been amazing,” says Cheryl Brocki, DVM, vice president, Vet’s Best Friend. “We can meet the need for more animals to be treated with the best medicine or refer as needed and clients do not have to worry about a financial burden.”
“As the number of insured pets rises in the United States, our veterinary community will have the opportunity to improve compliance with gold-standard care,” says Stacy Choczynski Johnson, DVM, with Pumpkin Pet Insurance.
*Hospital design is taking the emotional needs of patients seriously, with the goal of stress reduction.
“New hospital design plans have placed special attention on separating species within the veterinary hospital,” Dr. Johnson says. “For example, there are separate lobby areas, entrances, and exam rooms for dogs and cats in many hospitals. This allows there to be a noise, scent, and pheromone separation between the species.”
*The workforce crisis—whatever is causing it—is driving new ways for people to access veterinary services. That includes everything from wearable tech for pets to subscription-based stand-alone advice lines such as Nationwide’s vethelpline, staffed by veterinarians who can help to triage pets and answer owner questions.
“The service can help ease the strain on veterinary practices by keeping home those pets who don’t need to see a veterinarian at all,” says Emily Tincher, DVM, director of veterinary relations at Nationwide. “On the flip side, we can get the ‘wait and see’ client’s pet assessed and heading for a veterinary practice.”
*Drug pricing will become more transparent and ordering ability will improve.
“I think we’ll certainly see more transparency for the veterinarian in drug pricing and ability to order from where you want to order and get better pricing on the things you sell, as well as having your own in-house online pharmacy to be competitive with some of the big names out there and be able to offer that personal touch that you can’t necessarily get from some of the gargantuan competitors,” Teller says.
*Fear Free is becoming a standard for care.
“Our veterinarians and technicians have been advocating for Fear Free certifications and we are hearing requests from our clients, too,” Dr. Brocki says. “Vet’s Best Friend is taking steps to support Fear Free certifications at our group of practices across the Northeast.”
*Respect for the human-animal bond is growing.
“The human-animal bond will continue to play a large role in the direction of the entire veterinary industry, as we look at who can access care and what delivering that care looks like,” Dr. Tincher says. “We’ve long focused on advanced care in veterinary medicine, but as with human medicine we’re now just as focused on improving our ability to get basic care to more patients.”
That’s also important to Dr. Becker. “The 50 percent of pet parents who can’t afford veterinary care must have their needs addressed,” he says.
*Communication won’t always be face to face. “Communication is huge,” Teller says. “Sometimes we need that face-to-face communication, but I think that’ll be determined by each location and what each practice and client is comfortable with. But I think we’ll see kind of a mix now of what people want.”
*Integrative therapies are gaining traction in veterinary schools and in practices.
“Many schools are embracing integrative medicine with their students,” Brocki says. “Students are really excited at the opportunity to treat using multiple modalities. In cases of arthritis, for example, diet and exercise combined with physical therapy and acupuncture can work wonders.”
*Clients want human-level care and treatments for their pets. If they’ve heard about it for themselves, whether it’s CBD oil or a new antidepressant, they’ll ask about it for their furry friends, says veterinary surgeon Linda Simon.
“While a diagnosis of advanced cancer a few decades ago wouldn’t have had many, if any, treatment options, owners are now keen for their pets to be offered interventions including chemotherapy and radiotherapy,” she says. “Owners are more willing than ever to spend money on their pets and see them as members of their family. They are eager to embrace the ‘holistic approach’ to their health, ensuring they have the best food, nutritional supplements, medication, and parasite prevention.”
As veterinarians offer more specialized treatments and access to expensive equipment, the need for pet insurance grows as well, says Dr. Simon. So does the need for veterinary specialists.
“Previously, your local GP vet would be your go-to guy for every ailment, including a broken bone in your puppy or advanced liver disease in your elderly Labrador,” she says. “Nowadays, vets are specializing more and more, meaning an owner may be referred to their local orthopedic surgeon if their pet has a broken bone and an internal medicine specialist for their dog with liver failure.”
*New lab tests may streamline diagnoses. “There’s no blood test for cancer, but I saw something not too long ago about a blood test for cancer markers,” says Tony Johnson, DVM, DACVECC. “That could be really good if you have an older dog who’s losing weight unexplainably.” If the test is positive for a particular marker, then the veterinarian or oncologist will have a better idea of how to proceed with additional diagnostics and begin treatment earlier when it’s more likely to be effective. Another test in the works could identify not only genetic markers of bacteria but also resistance patterns. “If this sci-fi thinking pans out, you could culture a wound or a septic abdomen and within a couple of hours have a leg up on what the bug is and what antibiotics that might be responsive to. That would be pretty epic,” he says.
*Clients have increased awareness of their pets’ health status. That may be one reason veterinarians have been so busy during the pandemic. Owners are home and noticing more about their animals’ health and behavior.
“I know this for our own family,” says Dave Bruyette, DVM, DACVIM, chief veterinary officer at Anivive LifeSciences. “We sit around and stare at our animals all day long. It’s ‘I’ve seen the dog vomit three times and I’m going to take my dog to the vet.’ I think [it’s] just awareness of things going on that maybe they wouldn’t have been aware of before.”
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.