Seize opportunity with these emerging trends that will come to the forefront in the next year
The veterinary industry has experienced a whirlwind of changes and challenges in the past year, offering us ample topics for discussion and consideration. From heated debates surrounding veterinary technician utilization and the ongoing virtual veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) battle, to the explosive surge and subsequent plummet in practice valuations, and finally the persistent buzz around artificial intelligence (AI), the industry has seen no shortage of transformative forces at play.
As we stand at the cusp of 2024, the veterinary world is poised for yet another year of transformation. It is essential to keep a watchful eye on these movements, as they have the potential to reshape the industry landscape and delivery of veterinary care. Here are some key trends to follow in the upcoming year and beyond.
The nationwide legalization of eVCPR, or the ability to establish veterinary-client-patient relationship remotely, has been heavily debated in the industry for years, and 2023 finally saw some advancements in this field. In May, Arizona announced1 new legislation allowing state-licensed veterinarians to establish VCPR through telemedicine. A few months later, California passed2 a similar bill, which will go into effect on January 1, 2024. This totals 6 states that have eliminated the requirement to establish a VCPR in person.
In an interview3 with the VIN News Service, Mark Cushing, co-founder of the Veterinary Virtual Care Association (VVCA), alluded that we may soon see another state moving along with virtual VCPR, and "2024 is going to be a busy year, because what happens on policy issues like this, whatever the field is, once major states start turning, there's a whole different tempo and momentum."
The professional community is torn by these advances, with some celebrating the removal of one barrier to care, and others grieving over the perceived risks for the quality of care via telemedicine. A few even refused to take advantage of this new opportunity. While there is no evidence that virtual care is inferior, legalizing eVCPR might help resolve the longstanding issue of insufficient data around telehealth and patient outcomes in animal healthcare.
A trend supported by an ASPCA survey4 indicates that 69% of pet owners expressed interest in utilizing remote care options if accessible. As more and more veterinary hospitals embrace digital communication tools, discover new revenue streams, and tap into a broader talent pool available for remote employment, the industry will move closer to resolving the issue of access to care. With the ongoing progress of telemedicine regulations, it is prudent to prepare for the implementation of virtual care workflows to be ready to seize emerging opportunities.
Along with the advancements in telemedicine, the pressing need to enhance access to care has sparked a wave of other industry initiatives around spectrum of care, better staff utilization, and affordability of care. Veterinary businesses are introducing new services, practice models, and care delivery methods—all aimed at narrowing the gap in pet care for underserved communities.
One key development in this evolution is the rise of mobile veterinary services. According to the AVMA Economic State of the Profession report,5 mobile practices reported the highest median gross revenue at $1,200,000 in 2022, a staggering increase from $300,000 the previous year. This trend will likely continue, driven by the growing preference for convenience among busy individuals. Mobile veterinary services not only cater to their need for speed and accessibility, but also provide a vital solution for pet owners who might encounter geographical or logistical challenges in accessing traditional veterinary care.
The industry is also making progress in harnessing the full potential of veterinary technicians to enhance access to care and keep these valuable team members in the profession. A significant stride in this direction was the introduction of the 2023 Technician Utilization Guidelines6 by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), which provides practical tools to empower technicians and recognize their crucial role in patient care.
Furthermore, regulators are making efforts to address veterinary shortages by expanding technician scope of practice. For example, Arkansas passed a bill7 allowing veterinary technician specialists to diagnose, develop treatment plans, and establish a VCPR in collaboration with a veterinarian, and California is considering2 permitting veterinarians to utilize RVTs as agents in establishing VCPR for preventive care. In light of these developments, we can anticipate further conversations on ways to maximize the utilization of veterinary technicians and potential transformation of this profession.
The adoption of cloud-based software solutions has been a steadily growing trend for the past decade. According to the IDEXX Investor Day report,8 the number of practices operating on cloud-based practice information management systems (PIMS) increased from a mere 1% in 2013, to 12% in 2018, and is currently at the 35% mark.
As veterinary businesses are increasingly seeking to escape the costly, time-consuming maintenance of on-site hardware and IT infrastructure, migration to cloud-based systems will continue to accelerate by 6-8 percentage points per year reaching 84% penetration by 2030.
Corporate adoption will drive this shift as consolidators are realizing that lack of unified data is stifling their growth. Veterinary groups, who have been struggling to manage a mishmash of software across their locations, will aim to standardize PIMS looking to streamline operations, enhance data consistency, and improve overall efficiency in their multi-facility practices.
With 17% of veterinary practices planning to retire their server-based systems in the next 2 years, they will be shopping for all-in-one PIMS that offer a wide range of integrations and extended functionality that eliminates the need to purchase additional software, such as online booking, reminders, or telemedicine capabilities.
The cloud trend will also translate into positive outcomes for pet owners. Extended features of the new software will allow veterinary hospitals to offer a broader range of services and communication channels, such as text messaging, pet parent apps, virtual care, or even AI-powered chatbots, ultimately enhancing client experience and patient care. Finally, this trend will create opportunities for remote work among practice staff, addressing a longstanding aspiration expressed9 by veterinary professionals.
Ryan Leech, BBA, director of strategic partnerships at Digitail, is an experienced leader with a history of growing businesses through highly scalable sales models. With a background that spans multiple industries, Leech led sales for startups that raised over $100M in funding and ran his own sales consulting firm. Today, as director of strategic partnerships at Digitail, he oversees collaborations and integrations with industry leaders and innovators to drive digital transformation in veterinary medicine.
In addition to his professional experience as director of business development at Galaxy Vets and Hippo Manager Software, Ryan is also the host of "The Bird Bath" and a former co-host of the "Consolidate That!" podcast.