Pet Owners Have Spoken


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And increasingly, they’re doing it electronically.

Veterinary Advantage readers know that to be successful, you must meet your customers where they are – in the clinic, on the phone, or via email or text. Similarly, your customers must meet their customers (i.e., pet owners) where they are. But that can be easier said than done.

That’s because some veterinarians fear that electronic communication with clients may replace face-to-face, revenue-producing visits, and ultimately doom their practices. But there is another way to look at it, said Ed Blach, co-founder, president and chief veterinary officer of digital health company Vet24seven. And that is, with eyes wide open.

The company’s “MyPetDoc” artificial-intelligence-based, voice-driven triage service gives pet owners immediate answers to many of their questions about their pets’ health, behavior, nutrition and lifestyle. Its “artificial intelligence” is actually a distillation of about 250,000 interactions between pet owners and their veterinarians and additional third-party data on animal health.

24/7 support

Veterinary practices use MyPetDoc to provide on-demand support for pet owners who need immediate guidance and advice, and it is backed up by a 24/7 veterinarian team, Blach told Veterinary Advantage. The service is platform-agnostic and available by voice (Amazon Alexa and Google Home platforms), or by text and webchat. (In the first half of 2020, Blach expects to launch MyPetDoc on an app for iOS and Android, as well as on the phone.)

Vet24Seven introduced its chat/texting service in December 2015, and voice-enabled product in July 2018. Today, the services assist over 15,000 pet owners each month, with a growth rate of 10% per month.

Currently, owners can ask MyPetDoc for guidance on the following conditions: vomiting, diarrhea, urinary problems, itching and scratching, and eye issues. But before the end of 2020, MyPetDoc’s functionality will expand into other conditions, and its triage-focused guidance will be supplemented with anticipatory guidance and wellness plans.

“The MyPetDoc AI Triage platform is a frontline solution that can provide convenient and valuable answers to a great majority of questions and concerns,” said Blach. “However, we plan to always provide the option to speak immediately with a veterinarian if more guidance is needed. We find that 75% of pet owners are satisfied with the responses from the AI, and 25% would like additional conversation with a veterinarian, providing an even deeper level of engagement and service to our customers.”

Practices that subscribe to the “MyPetDoc For Practices” program use the service as a 24/7 extension of their practice, he added. Clients use a proprietary code to access the service and can request that summary notes of the encounter be sent to their local doctor.

Lessons learned

It is true that 70% of MyPetDoc consults do not result in a vet visit. But rather than presenting a threat to the local veterinary practice, electronic or artificial-intelligence-driven solutions can actually increase the frequency and quality of pet owners’ engagement with their veterinarian, said Blach.

“We shouldn’t be generating veterinary visits for the sake of generating veterinary visits, as that would betray the trust we hold with these customers. Instead, we should be thrilled to solve customers’ needs in the most convenient and immediate manner possible.”

And in today’s market, with the shortage of veterinarians and technicians, clinic staff should spend their time serving the clients who are in front of them instead of responding to dozens of non-urgent calls, he added. By supporting services such as MyPetDoc, practices can afford to provide 24/7 service. What’s more, the availability of MyPetDoc or other electronic tools places the clinic “at the forefront of technology and exemplary service in the minds of their customers.”

Of course, AI-enabled options represent a shift in the veterinarian-client-pet relationship, said Blach. But those changes are occurring nevertheless.

“Fewer than half the customers who use our platforms have a regular veterinarian, and data shows that most younger pet owners don’t want one,” he said. “They want to be empowered, to be in charge of the health and well-being of their pets. They want answers immediately in the palm of their hand or however they access their ecosystem. They want to know that they are making the best decisions for their pet family members, and they want it on their terms, not ours.”

Veterinarians can choose to get involved and use technology in a manner that works for them and their clients, or they can choose not to get involved and instead leave their clients to their own devices to find solutions, said Blach.

“Clients will seek answers wherever they can find them … which is how Dr. Google became a frequented alternative,” he said. “Veterinarians failed to make their expertise available at clients’ time of need.

“We can serve ourselves well by shifting away from looking at issues in terms of, ‘How does this affect me?’ and instead asking, ‘How does this affect my customers?’ I predict a rough future for any enterprise that fails to put customers’ interests first in all situations.”

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