LAS VEGAS - (Feb. 18, 2008) – Whether e-mailing colleagues, researching disease states, or seeking new employment opportunities, veterinary professionals are embracing digital technology – but they have yet to connect with their clients online.
A national survey released today at the Western Veterinary Conference showed that veterinarians of all ages and practice sizes now rely on the Internet and digital devices to communicate, conduct research, and manage their practices, but these same professionals have yet to embrace the Internet as a tool for communicating with their clients.
The survey — titled "The Digital Clinic Study" — was sponsored by Fleishman-Hillard International Communications, in cooperation with the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). It is based on responses from 2,048 veterinarians and other members of the veterinary healthcare team to an online survey.
"We conducted this survey to provide our animal care clients and other industry leaders with a better understanding of how digital technology is being used in veterinary clinics," said Greg Connel, Fleishman-Hillard senior vice president and co-chair of the Fleishman-Hillard animal care practice. "Overall, the results were impressive. The majority of clinics have embraced an array of technological solutions, ranging from email to online drug research to veterinary forums."
Digital Technology Makes Clinics More Efficient
According to the survey 88 percent of veterinary professionals said they are more productive because of computing and digital communications.
Percentage of veterinarians who "strongly agree" or "agree" with the following statements regarding the Internet:
The respondents noted a variety of topics of interest, with more than half of those surveyed using the Internet to research everything from animal nutrition and toxicology to employment opportunities:
Over the past six months have you visited websites for information on the following topics?
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, veterinary care has become a $24.5 billion industry in the United States. The Digital Clinic Study offered insight into how technology and digital communication plays a changing role in the meeting the needs of veterinarians, their staffs, and their clients.
In particular, the Internet appears to have far-reaching effects. In what historically has been a sales-force driven sales model, 44 percent of veterinarians reported that they'd prefer to receive information about new products from manufacturers via an industry-related Web site that offers education, purchasing and product details.
"For manufacturers, it's important to remember that 37 percent still preferred a face-to-face visit," said Brian Cox, Fleishman-Hillard senior vice president and co-chair of the animal care practice. "But, for those clinics that are increasingly turning to the Internet to assist in purchasing decisions, manufacturers should consider adding richer content and online sales capabilities to product sites."
How would you prefer to receive information about veterinary products from manufacturers?
A Pet Owner Paradox
Although veterinary professionals are embracing technology within their practices, they are less inclined to use online tools to communicate with clients – with fewer than 30 percent e-mailing appointment reminders, advertising online, or sending out e-newsletters
Does your veterinary clinic, hospital, or practice do any of the following using the Internet?
(Percent responding "Yes")
In addition, while 67 percent of respondents said clients frequently bring them information on animal care from the Internet, most veterinarians said online information confuses their clients. And, only 10 percent of respondents extensively or considerably relied on information available from consumer oriented websites about pet care, with 63 percent relying on them little or not at all.
How confident are you of veterinary-based information you find from the following Internet sources?
"Based on these two responses, it would appear that there is a missed opportunity for veterinarians to connect with their patients by providing credible, owner friendly information that would help them better understand their pets' needs," Connel added.
Devices and the Digital "Age"
The study also revealed an age-based difference among veterinarians in how they view technological advances. Respondents age 60 and above were far more likely to feel more productive because of computing and/or communication devices (65 percent versus just 42 percent for those 29 or younger). They also appreciate that cell phones and other mobile devices make them more available to others (52 percent versus 42 percent for those 29 or younger). Respondents 60+ also were least often annoyed to respond to the intrusions by computing devices (five percent), and most likely to need assistance in how to use the devices (28 percent).
"The Digital Clinic Study has given us fascinating new insights into how impactful the digital age is on the veterinary profession," said Dr. Ron DeHaven, AVMA Executive Vice President. "It is exciting to see that in many ways veterinarians are ahead of the curve when it comes to using this new technology."
"It's clear from the Digital Clinic Study there is a tremendous need for clear, credible information online," said John W. Albers, DVM, executive director, American Animal Hospital Association. "As we continue to grow and expand AAHA's services to clinics and consumers, this information will enable us to make smart, strategic decisions that benefit veterinary professionals and pet owners alike."
The FH Digital Clinic Survey was conducted in partnership with the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Animal Hospital Association. Fleishman-Hillard developed the survey questionnaire in collaboration with the AVMA and AAHA, as well as contributions from several industry partners, including Agrilabs, Bayer Animal Health, Purina, Veterinary Pet Insurance, and Welch Allyn.
AVMA and AAHA emailed a link to an online survey to a random sample of 10,000 veterinarians with valid email addresses in AVMA and/or AAHA records, and to all practice managers, veterinary technicians, veterinary students, and veterinary technician students with valid email addresses in the AAHA membership database. The survey was open from December 3 through December 31, 2007. Approximate margins of error due to sampling are no more than plus-or-minus three percentage points for the veterinarians and six percentage points for the other groups.
To receive a copy of the full survey report, visit www.aahanet.org, www.avma.org, or call Nader Ali-Hassan at Fleishman-Hillard 216.928.3477.