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Q & A  with Ben Sweeney of VidiVet

How did VidiVet come about and why?

I have been working in the veterinary profession for over 20 years now, and with pet numbers growing and vet numbers stagnating, access to veterinary services has become increasingly challenging as well as expensive with the corporatisation of the profession.

Many vets are no longer open 24/7 and out of hours services are extremely expensive, but if people have a question about their pet overnight, what are they to do?

There are so many reasons that explain why people go to the likes of google or social media to ask questions about their pets, but the problem is that none of those answers are specific to those people, their pets or that set of circumstances.

So, we set up VidiVet to give people access to a platform that allows them to ask any question about their pet 24/7 and get a video answer from a real vet that is specific to them, their pet and their circumstances with clear guidelines and advice in less time than it takes to make a cup of tea!

Did your consultations increase during Covid-19?

Well, the obvious answer to this is yes, but that is mostly because we hadn’t launched VidiVet to the public before covid hit! We have been working away at it since September 2019 and were still conducting interviews with pet people at that stage: what was fascinating was the almost immediate change in approach to how they got advice!

At VidiVet people have two options, one of them is like a new evolution of a chatbot, but rather than getting an answer from a bot, you get a real answer from a vet in minutes. Then, if you or we feel you need a face-to-face consult, we book you in a video meeting straight away. Over 90% of people’s questions can be answered without even needing a video consult-something that many other services charge over £20 for or if they are free, tend to mean you are leaving a footprint on your pets medical records from an insurance company.

Do you think vet clinics will turn more and more to online consultations in the future?

I think the reality is that vet clinics won’t switch to digital, and the reason for that is simple: vet clinics are there to deliver the physical point of care, which is something that animals will always need – every pet will need a vet at some time during their time on this planet.

However, what we are seeing is that by using VidiVet, it means that we can help avoid unnecessary trips to the vet and offer people peace of mind form home, so we can alleviate the pressure on vets and nurses in the clinics and free them up to deliver excellent care to the patients who really need it the most. For me, the future involves a hybrid of using the digital service to help in the early stages and redirect anything that needs physical attention into the clinic in an informed manner so people with pets know what samples to take with them, what tests they may expect and what costs they may face. It is all about improving the journey for you and your pet and making it as smooth and stress free as possible.

How many vets work for VidiVet? Do customers get to talk to the same vet each time?

We currently have a small core team of vets which is key as we learn more about our business and customers every day, however, we have over 300 who want to come and work with us which is very encouraging as it shows they also get the mission and why and how we can help.

For every question people ask, the same team member will talk to them all the way through and for those on our premium membership, any consultations will always be with the same vet if they wish. It is important however, that we have some team members who are brilliant in certain areas like behaviour and nutrition, so we may sometimes ask them to speak to you as they are our in-house experts on the topic you need help with.

For £10 a month, dog owners receive ‘bespoke health tracking’ among other perks. Please explain what this is.

Well, it is just that: bespoke. So, at VidiVet we believe that every pet is individual – it isn’t a one shoe fits all platform. For some people, they may want to focus on weight loss, others may have arthritic dogs, others with skin disease…the list goes on.

Our premium package means we work with you to focus on the specific things that you have concerns about as well as some specific general health monitoring factors like how much water they drink, regular weight checks and behavioural issues etc. The important thing is that we recognise and work on what matters to you and your pet!

Why is it important for vets to become more innovative?

Pet ownership, or pet parenting, has boomed in recent years, but vet numbers have stayed roughly the same as well as having high levels of burnout and churn from the profession, meaning that we have lost and continue to lose many experienced vets. The risk of this is that it compromises the expertise available to people and their pets in future. By offering innovative solutions like VidiVet, we only employ experienced vets and nurses, and we give them a way to make being a vet work with family life and allowing them to find a way to utilise and help others with their expertise, rather than losing them from the profession altogether.

If we don’t innovate and find new ways to support the ever-growing pet population, then the capabilities of the profession to cope in future are going to push all those who work in the industry to breaking point.

As amazing as technology can be, is there a danger that a vet launching a business loses credibility as a vet?

I perhaps have a bias on this and would say no. I am a vet, and my expertise is with me no matter where in the world I am. VidiVet and the tech behind it just makes it possible for me to use that expertise to help people from anywhere in the world, not just from behind a consult table.

The reality is that you can never be all things to all people. Some people will never embrace tech-and that is fine! We engage with an audience who have embraced tech into their lives. We have embraced digital in human healthcare, and like so many other things, veterinary has followed close behind.

Our vets will never replace physical vets, but we can actually bring veterinary expertise into that pet person’s journey sooner and potentially help them earlier than ever before by embracing the tech and showing them how easy it is to get a straightforward answer to any question! All of our team have hybrid careers, meaning that they still do physical vet work alongside the digital work which means we really can keep our fingers on the pulse.

How difficult/easy is it to diagnose problems for dogs you see on video links?

I think the first thing to highlight is that people don’t just use VidiVet for ‘problems’ – they can ask us literally anything, and it is often the things that they have felt in the past they couldn’t go to the vets with or didn’t want to waste their time with.

When it comes to diagnosing any problems or giving you appropriate advice, the history, and the context that you give us is key – it won’t surprise you to know that, like in humans, a lot of the time, what we treat are symptoms.

The joy with how VidiVet works is that it allows you to tell us everything you want to without being interrupted or being pressed for time. That history and background gives us the vast majority of what we need to know. Our video feature enables you to show us things that you need advice on and the text one allows you to write as much as you like.

Our answers are always clear and in plain and simple English, and what is more they are stored in the app so you can go back over them as many times as you like rather than when you leave a consult room and forget what has been said by the time you get home.

All of this enables us to give you very clear guidance and set your expectations very easily with a clear action plan for whatever you have asked.

How rewarding has it been creating your businesses?

Incredibly. And what has made it even more rewarding is seeing the feedback from people who have used VidiVet and knowing that it has improved things for them and made their lives easier.

I have learnt infinitely more about pets and their people and how we can help them, now we just have to invite everyone to join us on the journey.

For me the biggest take away has been that by asking questions about your own pet, you help other people with other pets. We can see common themes, common issues, make early alert warnings for things like food issues, infectious disease outbreaks, breed specific problems and so much more like inform you when your pet may be faced with different types of conditions. The possibilities are endless, but the most important thing is that while we find it rewarding, everyone else reaps the benefits of those rewards.

How do your peers view your business?

Fortunately, Rory and I are both relatively well connected in the veterinary profession, and people know us both and how we strive to do things not just for the benefit of the veterinary profession but also for the benefit of anyone with a pet.

At the centre of everything we do is pet health and welfare, so they can really get behind us (and already have). We have received lots of encouragement and so many of our peers are chomping at the bit to get involved which is very exciting for us-it means we get to have a real community focused business where everyone sees the benefits and rewards.

Of course, there are the odd naysayers, but you will always get that in any new venture that steers something in a new direction. Ultimately, this isn’t necessarily about our peers: it is very much about our customers and the people we serve. If we help them, and they are happy, then we are happy!

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