There's an App for That

Mobile applications are revolutionizing the business of running an equine veterinary practice.
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It seems amazing now to realize that Apple’s iPad—the first tablet computer to make an impact on the technology market—was introduced just two years ago, in April 2010. Star Trek: The Next Generation had already teased our imaginations with the possibilities of such a portable device, so it was little wonder that we immediately recognized the almost limitless potential in the real thing. Three million iPads were snapped up in the first 80 days after its launch. By the end of the year, 14.8 million iPads had been sold worldwide.

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For veterinarians with mobile practices, tablets like the iPad just make sense. Keyboard-less, they are easier to manipulate and keep clean in a barn than a laptop, and their high-resolution visuals are a potential boon in all sorts of situations, both on the farm and in the clinic. Smartphones, too, have become almost indispensable, making veterinarians reachable and Internet-capable even in remote areas. As the camera functions on both kinds of devices continue to improve, veterinarians are beginning to use them to record video presentations, lameness exams and all sorts of other real-time procedures.

One of the most appealing things about the iPad and its competitor tablets is their ability to run “apps.” These are compact mobile programs, long on visual appeal and touch-screen capability, that are available as add-ons to the basic tablet functions at relatively inexpensive prices, ranging from free to about $20.

Apps had already begun to be available for smartphones. Here, too, Apple led the way, though rival smartphone companies Blackberry and Android swiftly followed suit. Apps started to multiply in both quantity and complexity. Games like “Angry Birds” might have been the launching place, but business, navigation, education, music, social media, finance and news-gathering apps (to name just a few categories) soon began to explode onto the scene in quick succession.

According to Flurry, a company specializing in mobile application analytics, mobile apps now command more attention from American consumers than do TV and the Internet during the hours between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. And at peak usage time, about 9 p.m., some 50 million consumers are using mobile apps.

There are now more than half a million apps available for Apple’s iPhone and iPad alone, and Android and Research In Motion (Blackberry’s parent company) aren’t far behind. Developers can’t write the software fast enough. The variety of apps now available just keeps getting more dizzying, and the potential seems boundless. One of the most intriguing developments, however, is the proliferation of apps for veterinarians. “There’s an app for that” might have started off as a joke … but increasingly, it’s turning out to be true.

What’s Available?
Here are just a few of the practical and useful apps available for equine practitioners, along with a couple of the more offbeat ones.

Some apps not only keep track of appointments, but contain a complete medical history for each of your clients’ animals. They also allow you to track trends, plan treatment regimens and revise client info, all without ever having to call the office. The best of these allow you to back up your records to an external hard drive or “cloud” (online storage network) so that you won’t have to re-enter all the information if you get a new phone or tablet.

DVM Calc (available for iPhone) is one example of an app that can help you calculate constant rate infusions or toxicity levels. It has 26 different practical calculators, in addition to several of the above, for under $5.

There are calculators that will convert Imperial to metric measures, suggest fluid rates in ml/hour or ml/minute, make recommendations for transfusion rates, calculate ages converted to human years, gestation, body surface area or energy requirements for a given weight.

Reference and glossary apps can condense 800-page veterinary texts into a few kilobytes of software, with the advantage of being portable, completely searchable and (usually) subject to updates.

Drug databases exist for all three platforms—the main advantages of these over paper databases being that they are searchable and regularly updated. If you are dealing with clients for whom FEI or racing withdrawal times are an issue, these can be extremely useful.

Compendia of veterinary products can also help you locate specific medications and distributors in your area. These are available for iPhone and Android.
All Recalls, a free app, allows you to track product and drug recalls from five U.S. government agencies.

Study guides for veterinary and vet tech students–often equipped with flash cards and quizzes–can be entertaining as well as educational.

Bloodwork results can now be sent straight to a smartphone or tablet and interpreted for clients via easy-to-understand infographics that show the normal parameters for each value compared with the results for the client’s horse.

Similarly, digital radiograph results can be displayed on tablets, with excellent resolution, for viewing on the farm.

The website www.equineadvances.com offers an iPhone/iPad app that provides guidelines for the injection and centesis of all clinically important synovial structures, including joints, tendon sheaths and bursae, with notes on anatomy, technique and potential complications.
Laminitis-Risk.com is an app for horse owners that estimates the non-structural carbohydrate levels in pasture grasses based on current weather conditions and your location (for phones equipped with GPS). So far, it is only available in the United Kingdom, but it will probably be extremely popular for North American owners of laminitic horses once it launches here!

Untried, but intriguing: Pet Acoustics is an app designed to provide music in the frequencies and decibel levels that provide comfort to stressed or hospitalized dogs, cats and horses. The music is supposed to have a “significant calming effect.”

As you can see, the range and variety of available apps is already staggering, and it’s only going to become more so. Perhaps that’s why the adoption rate for these handy bits of software is surprisingly low among veterinarians.

“I’m intrigued by the possibilities, but I have to admit I haven’t had much time to really explore the world of apps,” says Ron Friedman, DVM, who operates a mobile practice at Friedman Veterinary Services and the Oregon Equine Reproduction Center, both based in Lake Oswego, Oregon.

Vet tech Katie Timmer, who works with Denise Bickel, DVM, at Whole Horse Veterinary Services in Jackson, Michigan, agrees. “We’re a fully mobile practice and we’ve gone electronic in a lot of ways—I think we’re one of the more technologically savvy practices in the area. But we haven’t really gotten on board as far as apps go, yet.

“I’d be concerned about the reliability of the information in some cases. I’d feel a whole lot better about a catalog of prohibited medications, for example, if it was issued by the regulatory body, rather than just from some software company,” she continues.

“So far, we’ve found that a lot of the invoicing and record-keeping software available for veterinarians is adapted for equine practices rather than designed for them. A program written for a small-animal practice doesn’t tend to have room to list multiple owners or separate addresses for barn vs. home.”

It’s certainly true that there are more apps available for small-animal practices than for equine, and that those written to cover many species might be less useful to an equine practitioner than apps written specifically for horses.

Make sure, as well, that any app you purchase contains information relevant to your country; drug regulations and units of measurements, for example, might be significantly different in Canada than in the United States.

Finding the time to explore the world of veterinary apps might be a challenge, but these tools are proving to be so handy, cost-effective—and, often, dazzling—that you ignore them at your peril. And go ahead and have a little fun—download “Fruit Ninja” while you’re at it.

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How To Buy

You can purchase apps either directly from your smartphone or tablet (when Internet access is available) or from your home or office computer. On a smartphone, look for the “app world” or “market” function and try searching the word “veterinary” to see what’s available. On a computer, look in iTunes for apps that will run on an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch; search “Android Market” for Android-compatible apps; or if you are a Blackberry user, search the web store at Blackberry App World.

Before you buy, read the description carefully to see whether the software is applicable to an equine practice and your country or location. View the screenshot(s) to see whether the app looks easy to use, with clear text and graphics; and most importantly, read the reviews to see whether other buyers have found it useful. The reviews will reveal whether the app contains too little information to be useful, has errors, is outdated or otherwise unreliable–or whether it has glitches that prevent it from running on certain devices.

Payment for apps is usually by credit card or PayPal, after which you will receive download instructions. Most apps install in a matter of minutes or seconds.