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Alex Douzet is CEO of Pumpkin, a pet insurance and wellness care provider founded to help ensure pets live their healthiest lives.
Pet ownership is at an all-time high, with 66% of U.S. households owning at least one pet. The global pet care market is estimated to grow from $246 billion in 2023 to $368 billion by 2030. Spending on veterinary services in the U.S. alone exceeded $38 billion in 2023, with growth in emergency care and specialty services contributing significantly.
Today’s modern, multi-species family is more bonded to their pets than ever, increasing the demand for gold-standard veterinary care. As a result, we are witnessing how modern high expectations are putting pressure on veterinary clinics to provide tech-enabled conveniences.
As these cultural and economic forces converge with the rise of advanced technology and artificial intelligence, I see five key trends that will radically impact the pet health industry in 2024 and beyond.
1. Technology enablement will help bridge the veterinary supply and demand gap.
Veterinary clinics face a critical imbalance between labor supply and demand. While pet owners’ demand for veterinary care services is at an all-time high, clinics face a crippling shortage of veterinary technicians and veterinarians.
To meet demand by 2030, IDEXX estimates clinics must increase productivity by as much as 40%. To achieve this, I see telemedicine and at-home diagnostic tools, as well as strategically integrated AI, as ways to improve efficiency in delivering care.
Particularly, I see telemedicine as poised to become an essential diagnostic tool. While predominantly used for urgent care, in the future, it can allow a veterinarian to diagnose conditions and prescribe treatment remotely. This increases efficiency by allowing clinics to administer high-quality care at a faster frequency than in-clinic appointments currently allow. Likewise, the adoption of in-home diagnostic tools such as tracking collars or smart litter boxes can allow a veterinarian to monitor a pet’s health remotely, alleviating the need for frequent in-clinic exams.
2. AI tools will unlock better care outcomes and health longevity.
Sure, AI tools free up time by performing mundane tasks like managing client communications, streamlining record-keeping and summarizing medical records. However, how I see AI truly transforming the veterinary industry is in its ability to enable more accurate diagnostics and early detection of health risks. AI is paving the way for gold-standard care by allowing clinics to bring new, rapid diagnostic tests in-house so they can rely less on outsourced pathologists or lab testing.
Promising results presented at the 2023 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing showcase AI’s success in analyzing radiology results. AI can act as the veterinarian’s co-pilot, quickly and accurately analyzing diagnostic imaging and detecting abnormalities the human eye may miss. Multimodal AI tools can further assist veterinarians by synthesizing images, video and text inputs to generate a holistic summary of any health issues present.
AI’s accuracy and speed of detection are proving to be a powerful mix. I’ve observed how a veterinarian and veterinary technician using AI-powered scans were able to confirm a dog’s ingestion of rat poison in minutes, radically improving their ability to quickly administer treatment.
3. Continued corporatization of vet clinics.
Today, 40% of general practices and 25% of emergency clinics are independent. In the coming years, independent clinics will likely continue to be acquired in significant numbers. The need for greater efficiency and technology investment is the driving force behind this trend.
One clinic typically doesn’t have the resources to invest in the technology needed to increase their productivity. However, when practices join a group network, optimized workflows can increase productivity and revenue, allowing them to reinvest those funds in areas that will improve the client experience such as cutting-edge medical tools and top-tier talent. I see this as vital for longevity since millennial and Gen-Z pet owners expect a frictionless client experience and the highest level of care.
4. Next-generation pet owners will drive tech-enabled convenience.
Modern pet owner have a closer relationship with their pet than previous generations. They are dedicated to giving their pets the most high-quality care, and their approach to pet care is more proactive with younger generations more likely to insure their pets: 31% of Gen-Z versus 8% of Boomers.
These generations grew up in the digital age, and their familiarity with seamless technology means they expect a digital-forward in-clinic experience. To satisfy this generation’s expectations, clinics need to enable a frictionless client experience with things like digital self-check-in tools and patient intake kiosks, integrated CRM platforms spanning every visit touchpoint and better cloud-based practice management systems that consolidate client data.
5. Clinic networks may soon only accept insured pets.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index reports veterinary costs have increased by nearly 11% between July 2022 and July 2023. The sheer demand for veterinary services is straining the labor shortage, causing veterinary costs to rise at triple the rate of standard inflation, which is currently 3%.
The rising costs have made veterinary care less accessible for some pet owners, so I see the current moment as a once-in-a-lifetime growth in pet insurance uptake. In 2022, NAPHIA predicted pet insurance penetration, currently around 3%, would increase, with an overall compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16.7% between 2022 and 2030. At that rate, between a quarter and one-third of U.S. pets could be insured by 2043.
As clinics endeavor to increase productivity, they’ll likely consider the necessity of only accepting insured pets. Insured pets support costly diagnostics and treatments, so clinics know they can administer gold-standard care while remaining profitable. According to a report by Zoetis and my company, insured pets see veterinarians 1.5 times more per year compared to uninsured pets and spend almost two times more at their clinic per year.
This pivotal moment in pet health represents a unique confluence of societal and cultural shifts. In the face of transformation, it’s promising to see how veterinary teams embrace emerging technology.
It’s a dynamic time for this industry, with a seismic shift in human behavior, values and spending priorities that will lead to tremendous innovation in veterinary medicine and expand access to the best care possible for pets.