To Mark Olcott, most veteranarians are like most doctors: educated, caring and focused on what they’re supposed to be doing.
However, there’s a business side to their profession, and many are so focused on healing the sick and injured that they may not pay as much attention to the business side of their operations as they might — including keeping accurate financial records for their practice and easily accessible health records for the animals.
Today, most professions use current technology to keep extensive records; but in many halls of modern medicine, human and otherwise, doctors have been slow to join the revolution.
Olcott is working to change that. A doctor of veterinary medicine who in 2013 obtained an MBA from the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business, he and his partner, software engineer Kalpesh Raval, just obtained a $1 million infusion from an investment group to market an app called VitusVet, which they developed at the Howard County Economic Development Authority’s Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship (MCE).
VitusVet is designed to store your pet’s health records in the cloud, and thus have them available via your smartphone during emergencies.
“A conduit to electronic health records (EHRs) for animals,” he said. “That’s exactly what VitusVet is.”
Olcott, the CEO and founder of VitusVet, pointed out there’s no Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act for animals; thus the veterinarian’s primary way of sharing a family pet’s health care records “is using a fax machine. That doesn’t work after-hours and is dangerously outdated,” he said.
“Let’s say a dog gets ill, the owner takes him to vet, then takes the dog home. But,” he said, “if the dog gets sick again after the vet closes, you have to go to an emergency overnight clinic. The emergency vet won’t have the sick dog’s records, lab work, X-rays, etc., and repeating these tests is very expensive.”
The VitusVet software stores information in the cloud. “Once the records are up there, not only are they available after-hours, we alleviate inefficiencies that come with faxing,” said Olcott, estimating that front desk personnel at a veterinary hospital “can spend up to 40% of their time” tending to that task.
Another selling point is that the Vitus- Vet app is free for pet owners, who can also use it to set appointments, program reminders to administer meds, etc., á la the Walgreens app. The company makes its money via veterinary hospitals, which have purchased several hundred apps and pay the company a monthly subscription fee. The cost depends on the practice, but for general practitioners, it’s $99 per month, with higher, tiered pricing available for emergency and specialty practices.
“The client pays for their pets’ records, so they are legally entitled to that information,” said Olcott.
Olcott said that making doing business easier for clients with new technologies is critical in today’s crowded veterinary market, especially in metro areas like Baltimore-Washington that have many citizens with significant disposable income.
“There are no colleges of veterinary medicine in this area, yet there is still a rising supply of vets setting up shop here, many of whom graduated from Virginia Tech and the University of Pennsylvania, each of which graduates about 100 vets a year,” he said. “But demand is not increasing, and that leads to increased competition.”
Even though most vets don’t go out of business, “as baby boomers retire, the practice owners are having trouble finding buyers, since there isn’t as much demand to buy one-and-a-half-doctor practices,” Olcott said. “Corporate buyers, like VCA and NVA, are primarily interested in buying larger practices with greater economies of scale.”
Plus, many dog owners are loyal to one vet. If s/he retires, clients may not stay with the new doctor, so smart doctors hire their replacements early.
Then, there’s the typical problem of college debt. “If a new vet is $300,000 in debt, they can’t buy a practice,” he said. “The next 10 years will be an interesting time for the industry. I think we’ll see considerable consolidation of practices.”
Happily for Olcott, others in the industry are seeing the logic of an app like VitusVet.
“It is not surprising to see venture capital investment in pet medical information applications,” said Kathryn Whitmore, founder and managing principal of STS Consulting Group, a Hunt Valley-based firm focused on health care technology. “We’re able to demonstrate the patient benefits of sharing information across physicians through electronic health records, so why should the electronic sharing of pet health care information be any different?”
“Maryland enjoyed significant venture capital infusion in health care technologies last year, and there is an interesting parallel to using similar technology to connect veterinary offices and provide better health care for pets,” said Whitmore. “Animal lovers want the best for their beloved pets, as demonstrated by the increase in doggy day care centers, for example. So I believe a mobile app focused on improved pet health through access to medical information and interaction with the vet is going to be a huge success.”
Dr. Scott Andersen, president of Waugh Chapel Animal Hospital, in Gambrills, was also impressed by the concept. He did, however, voice concerns about the idea of manually inputting years’ worth of information into the app.
“The idea behind this app is absolutely phenomenal and pretty groundbreaking,” said Andersen. “However, the feasibility behind it is questionable. From a management standpoint, if your business is not already a paperless business, getting an extensive amount of information into a digital format and into the cloud would require hundreds of man hours.
“Each patient has a vast amount of information in their medical records. We have more than 10,000 clients, some of whom own multiple pets; with such a vast amount of information to manually ingest, there could easily be a mistake made,” he said. “In an emergency scenario, a mistake in an animal’s medical record could mean the difference between life and death.
“That part of the business is slowly changing, but it’s not 100% yet, so that could put a hiccup in the progress of what is really a fine idea,” Andersen said.
Dr. Kecia Parrish, owner of Hickory Ridge Animal Hospital, in Columbia, said that she’s “in the same boat as Dr. Andersen, because we still use handwritten records, too,” but added that change has occurred at her clinic, anyway.
“We’re starting to also incorporate the app into our practice, so it becomes part of our treatment plan,” Parrish said. “It’s another service that we can offer to clients for basic vitals, when their last vaccine was updated, etc. So having that information in emergency situations can expedite treatment.”
In fact, she had a dog go to an emergency clinic over the blizzard weekend after Hickory Ridge had done some blood work. “The VitusVet app saved our client time and money on a new blood test,” she said.
“We need the detailed notes on paper records, at least for now,” Parrish said, but “my bottom line is that you have to start someplace, so going forward we will try to take best advantage of the app that we can. That alone is worth it.”
That type of forward movement could yield big results, Olcott said.
“Amazon has people spoiled. Clients don’t want to call anymore, they want to do things with their thumbs,” he said. “In this fragmented industry, we’re attempting to become the glue that holds it together.”