The future of veterinary medicine is here

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A health care technology expert discussed recent advances in medical tools and digital enhancements, and what to expect in the next decade, during the keynote lecture at the 2024 ACVIM Forum

AI in veterinary medicine

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ACVIM Forum 2024

Daniel Kraft, MD, delivers the keynote lecture at the ACVIM Forum 2024 conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and digital technology are rapidly moving health care forward with the recent evolution of telehealth serving as an example. Along with other modern technological innovations, veterinary care providers should expect to see much more innovation to come in the next decade and at an even faster pace, according to Daniel Kraft, MD, founder of NextMed Health and the digital database Digital.Health, which includes Veterinary.Health. “It’s an interesting time,” he said.

In his keynote address at the 2024 American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM) Forum in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Kraft delved deep into the various ways that digital and AI technologies are being combined with medical knowledge and research to create new ways to manage health care for humans and animals. But first, he demonstrated to the audience just how these modern technologies can be adapted for many different uses by playing a song he created using AI that celebrated the veterinary professionals in attendance. “It’s not bad for a first pass,” he said.

According to Kraft, a human medicine doctor who specializes in pediatrics, modern technology offers the promise of health care tools and resources that are more intelligent, digitized, personalized, data-driven, precise and preventive, democratized and equitable than ever before. He acknowledged that pet owners and human patients are already using AI services such as ChatGPT to self-diagnose medical conditions. A proponent of crowdsourcing information, Kraft noted the ease in which medical communities can also share research and innovation. One example he used is the crowdsourced Dog Aging Project.

Kraft’s lecture itself also demonstrated the value of technology and the ability to drive crowdsourcing with its livestream broadcast from Minneapolis. In the session’s digital chat, audience members provided locations from which they were virtually watching throughout the US and Canada, as well as from countries around the world that included The Netherlands, Germany, France, Ireland, Switzerland, South Africa and Australia.

Virtual and augmented realities

One tool that could prove useful to veterinary practices is virtual reality (VR) applications. Notably, VR technology can be applied to telehealth visits or other digital resources for patients. “In real time, I can show up in a Zoom [call] as an avatar,” Kraft explained. “Avatars feel real and interact like they’re real.”

Augmented reality (AR) has the ability to enhance what health care providers and patients are actually viewing. It can perform body scans and show a patient the implications of their behaviors and health decisions in the years ahead. For example, poor eating habits, frequent screen time, and smoking would all have a negative physical impact on an individual. What a patient sees in their augmented reality may encourage them to make healthier choices, Kraft noted.

Although he used some human examples for demonstrating uses for VR and AR innovations, Kraft pointed out that technology used in human medicine can often be applied to animal health while the reverse is also true. “There are so many cross-connections between human medicine and veterinary medicine. We can help each other,” he said.

Genomics

As the science of genomics continues to advance and be applied in both human and veterinary medicine, Kraft said this evolving innovation may one day yield vaccines for cancer, Alzheimer disease and Parkinson disease, among others. “Almost every disease can now be understood at its genomic level. We’ll leverage that for more precise and personalized care,” Kraft said.

He referenced the consumer-facing DNA at-home test kits from Basepaws, for dogs and cats, and 23andMe, for humans, as examples of how genomics can become more accessible. Kraft noted that these types of tests are also becoming less expensive. “The cost of sequencing is dropping,” he said.

Home health

For both humans and animals, at-home testing and diagnostics are evolving. Tools for at-home urine analysis and “poop’ables” relying on fecal matter to detect health data, for example, are on the horizon for wide health care use, Kraft predicted. “They’re coming to our homes and maybe our litter boxes,” he said.

Wearable technology is continuing to evolve beyond smart watches with smart rings, patches, digestibles, and even socks being used to monitor health and collect data. “These technologies are getting smaller and [more] wearable for any human or animal,” Kraft said.

Meanwhile, smartphone cameras are not only being used for telehealth but can now capture vital signs as well as conduct a fast urinalysis by using a photograph of a collected sample. Furthermore, innovations such as electroceuticals are on the verge of transforming medical care for patients with conditions such as Parkinson disease, for which tremors are detected and a pulse delivered to help manage them.

Takeways

Along with telehealth, avatars and genomics, Kraft noted how veterinary and pharmacy services are being delivered are also changing. One way to visit a patient mimics the services of ride share companies like Uber, he noted, while drone deliveries of medical supplies is another area that is seeing growth. “The future of health is exiting,” Kraft said.

Despite all the recent and future advancements in health care advancements and innovations, Kraft told the ACVIM audience that instead of being replaced by technology, these tools will serve as “intelligent augmentation.” Rather than getting disrupted by these modalities, Kraft encouraged the audience to blend new technology into their practice and make it work to their advantage. For example, using tools that improve efficiencies can allow a veterinarian more time with patients.

He challenged the audience to re-imagine their practices and keep up with the profession’s technological evolution. He noted that just how COVID-19 ushered in an era of telehealth, the veterinary profession will change with AI and other advancements. “AI won’t replace veterinarians but veterinarians that use AI will replace those who don’t [use AI],” he said.

Reference

Kraft D. The Accelerating future of health and medicine, what’s now, near and next for veterinary care. Presented at: American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine Forum 2024; Minneapolis, MN. June 6-8, 2024.

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