Top 5 Ways to Leverage Client Smartphones to Enhance Care

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As we celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the first iPhone, roughly 80% of the US population now carries a smartphone.1 In one decade, smartphones—and rapid access to the worldwide web—have fundamentally shifted the way we interact, from shopping, to banking, to socializing, to photography, to video, to music, to maps. Just 5 years ago, who would imagine that smartphones would all but eliminate the taxi industry? 2

In healthcare, smartphones are a central player in the recent adoption of telehealth services.3,4 And while telehealth may currently be one of the more controversial subjects in veterinary medicine,5 smartphones, when smartly employed with existing clients, are a powerful but often overlooked way to enhance patient care and client perceptions. (See Table 1.) Following are 5 ways to improve patient care by leveraging clients’ smartphones.

Table1
There’s an App for That
Following are some of the many apps clients can use that will help them and their veterinary team provide better care for their pets.
The AppThe Application

Evernote

Google Keep

Clients can keep digital journals of the pet’s activities

BPM Tap

VetCalc+

Clients can use to check their pet’s heart or respiratory rate

RVC Pet Epilepsy Tracker

RVC Pet Diabetes

Both help clients keep disease logs and remind them about specific disease care (eg, injection sites and times for diabetic pets)
Medisafe Meds & Pill ReminderClients can track multiple medications

Vet2Pet

PetDesk

Clients can use for scheduling appointments, ordering medications and pet food, and more

Pet Poison Helpline

ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center

Both provide clients with information on pet toxicity and connect pet owners with a poison control center
SloProAllows clients to video and document pet injuries (eg, lameness) in slow motion
ZipWhipClients can text a landline phone number to get help, with messages coming through a computer dashboard

1 Monitoring Diseases

At-home management of certain diseases can overwhelm clients, so put that ubiquitous smartphone to work. 

  • Basic applications (eg, Evernote, Google Keep) enable clients to keep digital journals of their pet’s activities that can be easily shared and remain in sync across devices.
  • Apps like BPM Tap or VetCalc+ have built-in tempo counters that allow clients to simply tap the screen corresponding to the heart or respiratory rate they are trying to count. These apps automatically output the rate based on the taps. Some will keep logs. 
  • Some organizations are leading the way in disease-specific apps. The Royal Veterinary College has 2 apps worth checking out: RVC Pet Epilepsy Tracker6 and RVC Pet Diabetes.7 Both can help clients keep disease logs, access trusted reference information, and store the practice’s contact information. The diabetes app helps remind clients to rotate injection sites, provides graphical displays of glucose measurements, and even incorporates a validated tool to help track quality of life. Search the app store for “Royal Veterinary College.”

Social Engagement

165% of WellMP associates and team members stay engaged with clients through text messages.

297% stay engaged with clients via social platforms.

SOURCE: Benchmarks 2016: A Study of Well-Managed Practices. Columbus, OH: WTA Veterinary Consultants and Advanstar Publishing; 2016:17, 80.

2 Helping with Medications

Clients dealing with pets on multiple medications may benefit from one of the many apps available that help organize and remind pet owners. 

One of my favorites is Medisafe Meds & Pill Reminder, which currently boasts a 4.5-star average from more than 130 000 reviews. The app has a graphical pillbox-like interface that is easy to use and is particularly helpful because clients can track their own medications, other family member medications, and pet medications all in one place.

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3 Connecting Clients & Practices

Veterinary practice apps like Vet2Pet and PetDesk are quickly becoming mainstream. New data suggest compelling business and medical use cases (eg, increased compliance, stronger loyalty) when practices offer simple tasks such as booking appointments through an app.8

Basic features include scheduling appointments, ordering medications and food, connecting to social media photo albums, and finding directions to the practice. 

Some of the more interesting features include app-based loyalty programs, metrics that measure app engagement, refill requests by clients who submit photos of medication bottles and food labels, and effortless medication push-notification reminders—think monthly heartworm preventives! 

4 Providing Trusted Information

Fight Dr. Google by arming clients with a few of the trusted reference apps available. Two obvious ones designed for client use are the Pet Poison Helpline and ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center apps, which both provide information on pet toxicity from trusted resources and can effortlessly connect pet owners with the poison control center. 

Both apps are free and available for Apple devices; the ASPCA app is also available for Android.

Using Technology

WellMP associates and team members say these are the top changes they would make to leverage technology in the practice.

1Create a practice app and increase updates on social media.

2Educate the team about technology use.

SOURCE: Benchmarks 2016: A Study of Well- Managed Practices. Columbus, OH: WTA Veterinary Consultants and Advanstar Publishing; 2016:81.

5 Giving Smartphone Superpowers

Finally, look no further than the built-in functionality of most modern smartphones to easily start wowing clients. Lights, cameras, microphones, speakers, GPS, and accelerometers extend superpowers to those who hold these tiny rectangular robots. 

The camera app is a useful tool that allows clients who are describing findings to take you on a time-travel adventure of sorts. One pro tip here: Encourage clients to record with video rather than still photography. Even when documenting skin lesions, live video can assist the veterinary team by giving clearer context. Apps like SloPro are available to help clients document video in slow motion (eg, lameness documentation at home without in-practice adrenaline). 

Also, allowing clients to communicate with the practice through their texting app is now possible. Services like Zipwhip allow clients to text an existing landline phone number, with messages coming through a dashboard on the computer.  

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Additional recommended tools include the flashlight app, the stopwatch app for counting resting respiratory rate, the calendar app for tracking events, and the alarm app for medication timers. Even tape measure apps are available to help measure bumps, wounds, critters, and whatever else clients desire.

Final Suggestions 

Start small by forming a committee to assess the available technology, make recommendations, and train the whole team. Then create a client handout outlining the different tools your practice recommends. Clients will appreciate the convenience of using a device they already carry, and patients will likely benefit from the improved care that naturally follows.

1Form a technology committee to assess the tools the practice chooses.

2Create a client handout outlining the recommended tools. Provide clear, concise instructions for pet owners.

3Train the team to use the tools recommended to pet owners because every team member should be able to provide immediate support. Team buy-in will help clients see the value of these tools.

References and author information Show
References
  1. Smith A. Record shares of Americans now own smartphones, have home broadband. Pew Research Center. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/01/12/evolution-of-technology. Published January 12, 2017. Accessed March 1, 2017.
  2. Nelson LJ. Uber and Lyft have devastated L.A.’s taxi industry, city records show. Los Angeles Times. April 14, 2016. http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-uber-lyft-taxis-la-20160413-story.html. Accessed March 1, 2017.
  3. McVeigh J. Smartphone technology acceptable for telemedicine, Mayo Clinic study confirms. Mayo Clinic. http://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/smartphone-technology-acceptable-for-telemedicine-mayo-clinic-study-confirms. Published October 1, 2012. Accessed March 1, 2017.
  4. Daswani K. Telehealth: patient care via smartphone. Los Angeles Times. November 7, 2015. http://www.latimes.com/health/la-he-heal-side-20151107-story.html. Accessed March 1, 2017.
  5. AVMA seeks your opinions on telemedicine recommendations. American Veterinary Medical Association. http://atwork.avma.org/2017/01/20/avma-comments-open-telemedicine-recommendations. Published January 20, 2017. Accessed March 1, 2017.
  6. Kenny J. RVC creates a dog epilepsy smartphone app to help manage mans’ best friend’s fits [press release]. Royal Veterinary College: University of London. http://www.rvc.ac.uk/news-and-events/press-office/rvc-creates-a-dog-epilepsy-smart-phone-app-to-help-manage-mans-best-friend-s-fits. Published May 18, 2015. Accessed March 1, 2017.
  7. Graves U, White Z. RVC launches revolutionary Pet Diabetes App [press release]. Royal Veterinary College: University of London. http://www.rvc.ac.uk/news-and-events/rvc-news/rvc-launches-revolutionary-pet-diabetes-app. Published April 6, 2016. Accessed March 1, 2017.
  8. Santi S. Vet2Pet and Colorado State University release pet owner’s perceptions and use of veterinary mobile applications study [press release]. Vet2Pet. http://vet2pet.com/2017/02/vet2pet-and-colorado-state-university-release-pet-owners-perceptions-and-use-of-veterinary-mobile-applications-study. Published February 27, 2017. Accessed March 1, 2017.
Author

Caleb Frankel

VMD Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Center, Greater Philadelphia, PA

Caleb Frankel, VMD, is an internship-trained veterinarian and self-trained technologist. He currently divides his time between 2 roles: director of new product development at Brief Media and emergency medicine practitioner at Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center in greater Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is also the founder of a new venture, Instinct Science, and the blog VMD Technology, 2 projects devoted to helping veterinary teams leverage technology.

FUN FACT: Caleb once made a 3-point shot while riding a donkey.

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