VETSon app puts a virtual veterinarian onto any farmer’s phone
VETSon, a unique collaboration between Dr. Glen Yates and his son Colin, is connecting Glen’s close to five decades of veterinary experience to farmers in need through their phones
“Now you’ve got your vet in your pocket,” said Colin.
Upon Dr. Yates’ graduation from Ontario Veterinary College in 1976, his parents Clara and Bill presented him a monogrammed bag within which to carry the tools of his trade. Two days later, Glen headed out on his first call from the Allandale Veterinary Practice in Barrie in a late 60’s Dodge Monaco to deal with a case of mastitis in a cow.
“As soon as I could get there, I was working,” recalled the 72-year-old Yates with a smile, who as of April 15th, 2023, has been practicing veterinary medicine for 47 years.
Vets have always been in high demand, their presence a welcome relief for farmers either in an emergency or preventative situation.
“Back then (when his father began), every community had their own vet,” interjected his son, Colin. “Even small ones.”
Today however, rural communities not only across Ontario but Canada and well beyond are experiencing a serious shortage in veterinarians, particularly those willing to practice on large animals.
“Some communities had several vets,” said Glen, noting Oxford County had 12 practices servicing large animals when he returned home a couple of years after beginning his career in Barrie, to found Yates Veterinary Hospital based out of Woodstock with his twin brother Gord. “Now there’s two - three if you count me.”
“In certain areas it’s a vacuum,” Colin added, citing Haliburton and Parry Sound. “They don’t have a single large animal vet to serve that area.”
There are many reasons for the shortage. Glen says his graduating class - which included Gord - numbered 120 in 1976, the same as it does today, while the province’s population and resultant demand has increased dramatically. “It’s not even looking after the retirees.”
A recent announcement indicates that number is scheduled to rise to 140, but Glen says that will not come close to addressing the current shortage. “It’s a tough situation.”
For many reasons, there also seems to be a tendency to move away from large animal service. “A lot of traditionally mixed practices are becoming companion animals only,” says Colin.
Resultantly, many farmers face a crucial shortage of service, particularly for large animals. Yates Veterinary Hospital was sold March 18th, 2021, with Glen leaving on his 70th birthday, May 21st of that year, although not ready to hang up his monogrammed bag quite yet.
The answer was creation of Slant Road Mobile Vet Services, a collaboration between his years of veterinary experience and son Colin’s technical savvy. His background includes a PhD in environmental planning, experience with wastewater treatment in the Arctic and teaching at The University of Waterloo for four years. “And then got the entrepreneurial bug,” Colin smiled.
During development of a sensor to monitor the body temperature of cattle in real time, personal interaction with farmers and related survey responses identified concerns about access to vets with regards to both service and medication which was no longer available at the local Co-Op. Secondly, younger farmers also indicated a willingness to employ technology in order to both save money and improve veterinary availability.
“Dad had been bringing up the issues for ages,” said Colin, noting the timeframe coincided with the pre-COVID launch of human telemedicine, and its rapid expansion and acceptance during the global pandemic.
It wasn’t a large leap to combine those elements into a veterinary equivalent through a phone App, whose name ‘VETSon’ features dual implications. “Either vets on-line or vet-son, whatever you want to call it,” smiled Colin.
In practice, VETSon allows farmers and experienced veterinary professionals (Slant Road also hired Dr. Steven Lee, who brings 26 years of experience to the table) connection through their android or iPhone in real time, adding video in either standard or ‘selfie’ mode to help in communication, diagnosis and care.
The interface is intentionally simple.
“As Colin says, if his dad can do it, anyone can do it,” Glen smiled.
The VETSon landing page features five different tabs through which clients can book a virtual visit (available time slots show up on a calendar, with the farmer able to click on one), receive prescriptions, purchase veterinary pharmaceutical items through an online store (farmers must have a veterinary client/patient relationship in order to receive medication, which Slant Road can provide), review notes based on the virtual visit, along with a billing portal. Clients have two options, a monthly plan or pay-as-you-go, per call billing.
Veterinarians are notified when their client makes a booking, farmers received a notification at the designated time to ‘join call.’ “It works pretty good,” says Glen, who may be less enthusiastic about wrestling a Hereford bull than at one time, but is fully capable of sharing the vast amount of knowledge metaphorically contained inside his vet’s bag.
“I still enjoy veterinary work,” said Glen. “And virtually, we can solve a lot of problems.”
Illustrative of the approach was his ability to remotely help a client in Golden Valley (between Trout Creek and Port Loring) successfully deal with a prolapsed uterus. He also had a woman from Bancroft break down in tears on the phone after being able to help bridge a three-year gap in veterinary service access. “Through the power of the app, Slant Road is being able to serve farmers that can’t get help anywhere else,” Colin said. “And all over the province.
“This gives them access to a licensed expert opinion from an actual veterinary practice on their phone.”
There are situations which cannot be resolved virtually. Initial contact can triage into the requirement for a physical visit, or on occasion, advice on dealing with untenable circumstances. “What can be done for that animal in a humane way,” Glen explained.
As well as working for farmers, the VETSon approach is beneficial for vets who can be paid for their services remotely when possible, thereby cutting down on the up to 40,000 miles of driving Glen faced annually when in physical practice.
“We’re hoping to provide veterinary service to those who can’t receive it and also lifestyle for veterinarians that isn’t the constant drive, drive, drive,” Colin summed up.
VETSon is not limited to Slant Road, rather a software service the two Yates hope other veterinary practices will integrate into their business models. Serious interest has been expressed from locations including Alberta, where distances involved are often even greater than here in Ontario.
“It will fit into anybody’s program and we’re happy to set it up with their practice,” Colin concluded.
The VETSon app is available through the app store. Those seeking more information are also invited to visit the website: www.vetson.ca.