Our clients increasingly use health apps on their mobile devices to monitor their own health and fitness. Like it or not—and I happen to know many of us do not—that means our clients’ use of apps to track their pets can’t be far behind.
For better and worse, I know a lot about apps. I was an early designer of one such health care monitoring app, The Fat Dog Diet. Though I still maintain a defunct Twitter feed for my outdated and very expensive bit of software, I learned a lot about building and maintaining an app.
Mostly, I learned that independent developers cannot be trusted, but also:
It’s really difficult to design a useful app when you don’t have complete control of the process.
Even the most useful app was no match for our culture’s app proficiency circa 2011.
Fast forward to 2016 and the once-bare terrain has been completely landscaped, or at least resod. We’ve become adept at using apps to track our own various health metrics, such as weight, calories ingested, exercise undertaken and blood glucose. In fact, at least 50,000 apps are categorized as “health and fitness” or “medical” in the iTunes store alone.
Here’s another eye-opener: An estimated 500 million people worldwide had used a health app by 2015. Moreover, it’s clear from a simple app store survey that animal health apps are on the rise. So many, in fact, that they’re hard to filter through.
Which begs the question: Are we ready to prescribe them to our clients? I mean, are these apps actually helpful? For most apps, the answer seems to be “not likely” or “possibly,” respectively.
Apps are neither wanted by the bulk of us nor are they fully functional. Even the best of them don’t adequately address the problem they claim to solve. Trust me, I’ve tried. What’s worse is that most of them are, to put it bluntly, dogs. They don’t offer much functionality beyond simple social media links or a cache of reference material you might more easily access on your Kindle.
But here’s the thing: Bearing in mind the pace of development in the app marketplace, it can’t be long before apps infuse our practice life in some measurable way, if they haven’t already. Indeed, it’s my contention that a select and growing number of apps, limited though they may be, are worthy of our collective consideration.
Here are a few:
1) Pet First Aid (American Red Cross)
In general, I tend to think that pet CPR apps, pet poison-control apps and other first aid-style apps are all but useless in an emergency. I mean, if our client’s cat is bleeding he’s not about to look up a list of possible causes, right? He’s bringing her in. Nor is he likely to scroll through a limited menu of toxic medications should she accidentally ingest his blood pressure medication.
Nevertheless, there are a few useful apps, such as the Red Cross’s app, in this department. But only because it’s got CPR videos among other fun stuff to explore. As long as it’s treated as a reference you read before an emergency, this kind of app works for me. Just feel free to skip all the stuff about “medical records management.” It’s way limited.
2) ASPCA and 3) Animal Poison Control Center
These apps promise critical advice on what clients can do with their pets before, during and after a major storm or toxic emergency. The first helps spread news of a missing pet on social media, while the second offers the popular “rodentislide” and “chocolate wheel” in the event of exposure.
4) The Merck Veterinary Manual
If my clients were willing to drop $49.95 on an app that would truly teach them about veterinary medicine, I’d happily recommend it. This one is just like the published manual except that you can count on free updates (hopefully, anyway). If you’d rather have this handy reference in your back pocket than cluttering up your workspace, this app’s for you.
5) VetPDA (University of California, Davis)
If you need an app to help organize all those handy dose, drip and conversion calculators in one place, this is a good one. For $4.99 it’s a steal. There are plenty more reference apps, but the truth is, I tend not to use them.
6) Rover and 7) Wag!
These two are fairly decent apps for pet sitting and dog walking.
8) Map My Dog Walk
Getting our patients exercised can be hard work and, much though it may promise, an app won’t make it any easier for our clients. If simply getting their butts off the sofa would help, an app may just be what they need (and maybe what we need, too).
Just like Fitbit but for your dog or even your cat. This inexpensive patient monitoring tool might make your practice’s wellness program stand out.
This pet tracker, from Whistle Labs, isn’t an app that works all by itself. It requires a GPS device that hooks to a pet’s collar. But it’s small, waterproof and does what it says it does: Tracks your pet in real time right on your mobile device. (I’ve used it. It works.) It is a tad pricey, but the Tagg app and device do double duty as a fitness tracker.
This video monitoring app works with a laptop or tablet and has all kinds of pet-specific features. This may be one to recommend to clients with diabetic, older or epileptic pets. Consider the next app for more information:
Like Tagg, this is a device as well as an app. It fits around a dog’s neck and, according to the company, “enables remote monitoring of your canine patients’ key vital signs and health indicators.”
Lots of apps claim to help keep medical records on file. But even the best of these store only invoices, not complete medical records. That I know of, only one app strives for a complete medical history, and this is it.
14) Insert your hospital’s name here
Want to offer a customized experience where clients can make appointments, receive reminders and generally get all kinds of happy info from your clinic? Plenty of app design companies will help build your own. And here’s a tip: The programmer doesn’t have to be one of the veterinary app design companies.
Have more apps to offer? I’m sure you do. Feel free to send me recommendations and I’ll happily provide an update or maybe review them on my blog.
Dr. Khuly owns a small animal practice in Miami and is a passionate blogger at www.drpattykhuly.com.
Originally published in the July 2016 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Did you enjoy this article? Then subscribe today!