Action R of the Vet Futures Action Plan calls for an Innovation symposium. I understand that plans are afoot at the RCVS to deliver the first event in September this year and I, for one, am really quite excited. It reinforces a growing feeling of excitement and a sense of being on the cusp of something special in the veterinary profession. The apocryphal ancient Chinese curse says, “May you live in interesting times”. We’re definitely living in interesting times and whilst this generates uncertainty, it’s an old English proverb that says, “Necessity is the mother of invention”. We certainly have the need!

When we think of innovation, we tend to think technology or things like telemedicine or pet wearables. I’d likely to try and reframe that thought to be more all encompassing because innovation can occur anywhere.

Indeed the recent Veterinary Innovation Summit at Texas A&M University was such an example. I didn’t have the opportunity to attend, but having spoken to people that did and seen some of the live streaming it seems to have been an inspirational event. The format was innovative in and of itself, with a set of keynote lectures on each theme and then breakouts in one of three styles; Understanding the theme and context better; Implementation, where experts tutored on how to get things done; Creation where you could get down and dirty by practicing with tools or methodologies around the theme.

The summit focused on three themes and it’s not for me to tell you about them, but they illustrate the wider context of innovation in the veterinary world.

  • The quantified patient
  • The connected clinic
  • The exponential practitioner

I hope the RCVS can deliver an equally inspirational symposium for the UK and indeed show leadership globally.

So if we consider innovation at a much higher level and not just about technology where could we start? At the most fundamental level, our veterinary world in the UK is defined by the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966. Although Legislative Reform Orders and a Royal Charter have helped to keep regulation and the RCVS fit for purpose, Brexit necessitates an overhaul of many legislative processes. That makes it like the right time to put innovation on the table and indeed the RCVS is actively doing so. What opportunities does that give us to innovate? A Veterinary Services Act, bringing all veterinary and paraprofessionals under a single regulatory instrument is one. Can you imagine what your new multidisciplinary practice team would look like with that in mind? Redefining what RVNs can do with a protected title and new regulatory framework could revolutionize how practices run or how animal health is delivered. The same is true for equine vets, dentists, herd health managers and as yet undiscovered opportunities for new specialisms. If you do one thing after reading this blog, complete the RCVS Survey on Schedule 3 of the VSA.

Another clear sign of change is the recent RCVS council elections with record voting turnout and a pleasing number of new faces. I hope it shows a new engagement with the RCVS and the work that lies ahead of us but of those eligible to vote only 22.8% of vets and 14.5% of VNs turned out. That’s still a small number even if markedly increased compared to 2016 voting. We all need to participate and it irks me that we will inevitably read negative letters in the back pages of various vet journals or magazines complaining about status quo.

Our future is our own and we must actively own it.

Think also about a new VSA with compulsory CPD, new definitions of specialization or compulsory practice inspections and what that would do for our veterinary clinics. We can view this as scary, because it’s human nature to be change averse, or we can take an opportunity to be brave and imagine a better world.

The second opportunity for innovation is Brexit. The RCVS, supported by the BVA, has established a Brexit task force and adopted three Brexit principles. These provide a framework for negotiation during Brexit, but critically provide a framework for innovative thinking as well. The principles are

  1. Vital veterinary work continues to get done.
  2. High standards of animal health and welfare remain and improve
  3. The RCVS is a global force for good

Each principle is underpinned by a number of policies that will be the foundations for negotiation. You can imagine “getting the work done” requires the right number of vets, reflecting concerns about EU workers in the sector, that “animal welfare legislation”, once a pan-European issue, now becomes a case of global accreditation for UK producers and that the “global force for good” ensures the rights of UK graduates working in the EU or in a world leading capacity in some way.

Whilst these might seem distant concerns for the average UK based, UK graduate or veterinary business owner, they’re real opportunities to be innovative in education, employment, practice systems and business management. There’s openings for innovative recruiters, CPD organizations and yes, technologies too.

The danger we face is that the world is moving around us very fast. We cannot afford to wait and see, or to move slowly. None of the conditions I’ve noted so far are exclusive to the veterinary profession. Consumers, pet owners and farmers who are moving faster than us surround us. If we don’t get a move on then we face the interesting proposition of having people steal opportunities from us. Remember the rise of the online pharmacy or pet food supplier? We can’t sit around and complain about losing sales to the Internet like we have done so far. It’s not the fault of companies selling online or your suppliers selling you out. Consumers demanded it and entrepreneurs stepped up.

We must innovate or die.

But here is the rub; we fall foul of our usual problem; busy-ness. It’s the mind killer because we don’t give ourselves the brain space to reflect and consider. We’re so busy working in the business; we give ourselves little time to work on the business.

So here’s the final call to action. At some point during the month of May, schedule yourself a minimum of 2 sessions, preferably longer than an hour each, to sit and reflect on how you see our profession evolving. Here’s a few tips for ensuring this works and you get something out of it, however restrain your inner achiever and realize that even if you don’t have inspiration, you’ll have spent a quality couple of hours with yourself.

  • Schedule your reflective time in your diary.
  • Preferably do it outdoors, in the fresh air and a sunny spot or at a slow steady amble
  • Take a note pad and pen, even if only for show
  • Turn your phone off. (If you need it on because you’re on call, then it’s not the right time to do this kind of reflective exercise).
  • Allow your mind to wander and just capture the thoughts.
  • When the session is over, either because the real world is intruding or because it just “feels right”, stash the notepad until the day after. The following day, re-read your notes and refresh your thinking.

Between the first and second session, take the time to do any background reading to further illuminate or develop the thoughts you had. In the second session, where all the same recommendations apply, you can ruminate on the thoughts, develop them further or even just sleep on them. We do a lot of problem solving in our sleep.

Running an innovation workshop for your practice can be a great exercise to do, but only if you have your basics under control. If you need help, want to run a workshop or structure your time to enable some reflective thought, then the VBC is the place to start. Vision, strategy and tactical delivery are specialties and we can support you at a practice or personal level. Get in touch, we’d love to help you paint your vision.

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