Machine Learning in Veterinary: How to Safely Implement AI in Your Practice

From panels across VMX and SPVS to RCVS round tables it is more than likely that at varying points over the past 18 months (whether you’ve wanted to or not), you have given some thought to Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its place within veterinary medicine. Regardless of whether your anticipation has been riddled with fear or excitement AI is well and truly here! From streamlining administrative tasks to providing invaluable insights into patient data, and assisting in improving client engagement, used right AI is undoubtedly a game-changer for any veterinary practice.

Are Pet Owners Ready for AI?

Given the ever-growing number of households, globally with multiple pets, no matter how much you may wish you could, you simply can not ignore AI. What’s for sure is the increasing number of pet owners out there certainly are not! In fact, Forbes recently reported that pet owners as a demographic are extremely early adopters of AI and other tech tools. The reason being the humanisation of pets and the parental desire to gain more access to insights around our four-legged, family member’s health care needs.

Interestingly, despite this thirst for more knowledge, pet parents, on average, are still not surfacing most of their queries. With a whopping 92% of a pet’s health issues still not being presented to their vet. It is here that unarguably AI (under the guidance of qualified veterinary teams) is more relevant and valuable than ever before. This is because it can remove the unnecessary complexities of activities such as ‘Telephone Tennis’ and ‘Answer Phone Tag’ with great ease. Adding AI into a clinic not only opens opportunities to implement more efficient workflow solutions, but by doing so it can also elevate the standard of pet care a clinic or practice can offer. Look for ‘AI assisted’ features rather than ‘AI led’ to increase your capabilities without sacrificing control.

It is also good to note that regardless of the style of AI tools you use, when incorporating AI within any clinic it is essential that you make sure the AI assisted services you layer in are respectful. That is, they understand or can accommodate the nuances of the profession, do not risk data privacy breaches at any level, and do so while still helping you maintain a personal, well engaged relationship with your clients. As a veterinary team it is essential you enroll in technologies that empower you. Look for hybrid AI features that are proven to augment existing patient advocacy efforts. As it is this level of service that will ensure you maintain your place at the heart of every one of your patient’s pet care journeys. And ultimately do not fear change! Covid made millennials of us all with pet owners of all ages adapting to the use of new technologies in order to enhance their own pet owner journey.

Could AI Undermine the Integrity of Veterinary Professionals?

AI is everywhere, and increasingly being utilised to aid various elements of veterinary medicine. These tools not only optimise workflow but also enhance the decision-making processes of veterinarians, leading to improved patient care and treatment outcomes.

A recent peer led panel at SPVS worked through a long list of questions that have surfaced over the past year as AI has stormed into play across all industries, globally. With many voicing concerns over its regulations within the pet care community. So what steps can we take to make sure that we safely implement new technologies?

In my experience the best way to ensure the integrity of any tech you utilise is to make sure that it has been developed by the community it was meant for. My teams will often place the tools and features we create in the hands of the professionals it affects. Doing so allows that community to be the judge of how best to mediate its functionality and reliability. For vets this will include best practices for using it as part of their pet owner engagements. I encourage you to take new AI tools and try to break them to tailor them to your specific needs and enhance them. Don’t bury your head in the sand and try to ignore them, be a part of what grows them into the essential extension of our services we very much need them to be. Don’t fear them!

A recent white paper published by VetCT (in collaboration with AI), concluded that overall, the use of AI tools in radiology (for example) had proven to significantly improve the diagnostic process, when used in conjunction with human expertise. The human involvement being the key to using these new technologies to enhance (not replace) our capabilities. Responsibly generated AI is developed under robust regulations, with open dialogue to ensure that all elements prioritise the well-being and safety of the pets and people it serves. Because let’s be honest, as amazing a leap as AI is, it does have its limitations which is why it’s important that any veterinary AI functionality is overseen and monitored by veterinary professionals. AI generated chats for example are a great way to clear through the daily avalanche of basic pet queries that do not need to come into the clinic, but collectively take up a lot of time to filter through, monitor and construct friendly replies to. Automatic AI generated answers that can understand the whole context of the chat in question and suggest the best next reply by the veterinary team, means you’re only reviewing and sending, rather than thinking up, typing and then proofreading any given answer. This kind of AI functionality can appropriately support a veterinary team, allowing them to simply oversee and sign off before a reply is made whilst also clawing back hours of previously lost time from their working week. Time that can be better allocated to patients that need to be seen and assessed in person.

Ultimately you want to use AI to help you help more pets, without sacrificing more of your time. AI is not going to replace vets, but vet professionals augmented with AI will likely displace vet professionals that just close their eyes to it and let the opportunities pass them by.

When there is tech out there that can augment and enhance our existing patient advocacy efforts, we should engage with it. This is an exciting time now to see just how many more pets we (the veterinary community) can each serve more easily and with greater ease.

Author Bio:

CTO and Cofounder, Will runs all things tech at PetsApp and he's been building products and leading engineering teams across some of the UK's most innovative companies for over a decade. When Will isn't helping to build our great PetsApp features, including Veterinary’s first AI assisted communication feature, he's making pizzas and then attempts to run off the pizzas. Right now, he's better at building features.

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