The Digital Pet Ecosystem
New technology trends and what your customers must have to thrive.
Editor’s note: Bruce Truman was a featured speaker at this fall’s E-Commerce Summit, a NAVC event held virtually that featured many of the industry’s technology leaders speaking on e-commerce-related topics ranging from retail to telehealth, emerging models of care and more. We thought this would be a great synopsis our readers could share with their customers.
The Digital Pet Ecosystem is happening now. It is the new technology trend, and it is here! Let us first define what we mean by the Digital Pet Ecosystem. The Digital Pet Ecosystem means anything digital that connects you to your client and their pet. This would include some of the basics that you are familiar with, like automated email and postcard reminder services, as well as any software that you can use in your practice to connect with clients. Examples of services would be appointment booking software, survey services, plus remote monitoring platforms that help with things like activity, weight, or basic communications via an App.
This evolving digital pet ecosystem is here. This idea of ecosystems or platforms transforming industries is not new, but one that has had a significant impact on other industries. Companies such as Expedia, Uber, Etsy, and Airbnb have all driven transformation and are huge successes. At its core, this is as simple as using digital platforms to unite supply with demand.
The pet industry is a fragmented supply and demand industry. Digital platforms can bring fragmented marketplaces together by connecting the supply (over 150,000 pet businesses, according to APPA) with the demand (over 138 million dogs and cats) enabling businesses and pet owners to find one another. When you consider that APPA valued the pet industry at $95B in 2019, being fragmented and sticking with the old veterinary business model is costing veterinary practices financial success and long-term sustainability.
Practices that embrace digital transformation are creating multi-lane highways via a multi-step, multimodal, multi-device client journey. Practices must digitally transform within the next 10 years to stay in business; otherwise, they risk being left behind as irrelevant relics of the past like Kodak and Blockbuster.
Embracing the Digital Pet Eco-system
Practices embracing the digital pet ecosystem create a care pathway. That care pathway, according to what we know from the largest pet-owning generation – millennials – could be chatbots, AI engine symptom checkers, or asynchronous telehealth interactions that then lead to a face-to-face appointment. Data from telehealth leaders (such as whiskerDocs with over 5 million pets on their platform) reveals that telehealth creates higher client engagement and education, and results in more practice visits.
According to the Merck Pet Owner Paths study conducted by Dr. Karen Padgett, the New Age pet parent wants engagement. They are interested in online chat or text services, monthly payment plans, loyalty programs, online purchasing, home delivery, and online resources with reliable pet care information.
How do practices digitally transform and become a deeper, more engaging part of the pet’s life? Well, we start with the basics or the “Fab 5 must-haves.” They are:
Make it part of your care pathway.
- Clients expect the same availability of services for their pets as they have for themselves. Access to care via virtual care has been the standard for human health for several years. In Europe, virtual care companies are the first point of contact and triage for cases and refer them to their veterinary practice. It’s a huge savings and education benefit, and in Europe, the virtual care companies are integrated with the pet health insurance companies. So, they know whether the interaction is covered.
- My recommendation is that you speak with your team and take a close look at the virtual care providers. Choose one that meets your needs best.
- I want you to view virtual care as a new revenue stream for your practice. Even without COVID-19, you could be setting up a virtual team that would take the appropriate cases and not tie up the clinic exam rooms.
Choose a veterinary distributor online pharmacy or a third-party pharmacy partner.
- Currently, it is unacceptable for you not to have an online pharmacy for your clients. Perhaps you have philosophically chosen to not have one, well that is okay. Choose to provide your clients with a prescription so that they can go to the pharmacy partner of their choice.
- I’ve seen many veterinary practices successful with giving the client a prescription every time and being very transparent that they can fill it from the practice online pharmacy or at the pharmacy they choose. It simply elevates your role as a veterinary professional and is remarkably like your client’s experience when they visit their physician. Consider that your physician does not tell you that if you buy 12 months of preventative, you can get two doses free. They do not say that about Lipitor, right? So, why would the client expect their veterinary professional to do the same thing?
Create new revenue streams that generate recurring revenue.
- I am intentionally calling these membership programs and not wellness programs. I am asking you to think about this differently. There is an opportunity for greater revenue and better medical outcomes by creating membership programs for specific things like chronic disease and concierge care.
- Practices are identifying those pets that are in high-risk categories for chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, or some other issue. For example, Senior Care could be a membership program. Geriatric Care could be a membership program. I am suggesting that these membership programs be managed by a specific team within your practice so that they are separate from your in-clinic team. There are several platforms out there that allow you to facilitate membership programs, and there are many companies, including software companies, that can manage the recurring payments for you. As it relates to concierge care, think of your top 10% of clients and offer them 24/7 access to your veterinary practice by selecting a service that provides this and only routes cases when it is needed.
- Now, let us think about wellness programs. They could be part of these membership programs, but specifically for those pets that are not in one of the other two buckets: chronic disease or concierge.
Automate Client Engagement
Including appointment booking, chatbot, email, texting, and more.
- Whether it be appointment booking or appointment request, clients expect to be able to book an appointment with your practice 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There are several providers in the space that can provide this service for you.
- Just to clarify, appointment booking means that the software you choose allows your client to book an appointment because it is integrated into your PIMS. Your veterinary practice software enables a view of your open schedule slots where clients can book on their own at any time. The appointment request is less complex but still fulfills a need for the client to go online, via your website or an app, and request an appointment time. However, it is not integrated into your practice software, so there are additional steps to contact the client and schedule the appointment. Vendors are providing these services.
- Chatbots are emerging now, so you can choose a provider and place the chatbots on your website. Many chatbots can divert to a live operator or your practice if necessary.
- I would assume that everyone uses an automated marketing services provider – some sort of platform that automates the sending of emails, postal, text, surveys, and loyalty reviews. I believe you cannot be operating a business currently without those services.
Pet Health Insurance
It is not new, but you should be recommending it.
- Data consistently shows that veterinarians are passive (almost negative) on the recommendation of insurance. If a client has insurance, they walk into your practice with a $10,000 line of credit that you can use to help the pet. Dr. Kerri Marshall often talks about economic euthanasia, and a recent statistic on economic euthanasia gave the price point around $550. We can be treating these pets if they are insured, and it is our obligation to advance the health of pets.
- According to the 2018 AVMA Report on The Market for Veterinary Services, “people with pet health care insurance spend a significantly higher amount on their pet care than owners without pet health insurance.” Pet insurance allows your clients to discuss treatment plans, consider management of chronic and acute illnesses, and save the euthanasia discussion for the appropriate time.
- Deploying a variety of new technology solutions will help veterinary health care teams improve patient care outcomes, enhance client engagement, improve workflow, and produce a return on investment. None of these tools will replace the veterinarian; instead, they provide a means for the team to advance clinical care because the tools remove barriers to care and barriers to communication.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bruce L. Truman
A companion animal health business executive specializing in PetTech. His areas of expertise include veterinary telehealth, business development, companion animal health care informatics and emerging digital technologies. He is Vice President for BabelBark and serves in an advisory board capacity for the following PetTech companies: NAVC Retriever, a veterinary recruiting app; SimplyDONEsocial, a veterinary social media platform; and FIDU, a primary care to boarded specialist telehealth solution.
Photo credit: istockphoto.com/Sviatlana Barchan