Earlier this month, I was working out at the gym with my personal trainer when we noticed a young woman in a corner by herself doing all kinds of athletic moves. There seemed to be a pattern to what she was doing, as if she was in a group fitness class, but she was the only one there. Curiosity got the better of us so we moved closer to her to continue my workout. When we got there we noticed that she was working out to a video on her iPad. There I was, being trained by a real person, and she was using a digital coach. I turned to my trainer and asked him if he was prepared to compete against digital trainers. On my way home from the gym I asked myself the same question.
Later that day I came across an announcement from Google promoting their new service called Google “Helpouts”. Here is an excerpt from the announcement on Mashable.com. “Google on Tuesday announced Helpouts, a new tool that connects users via live video chat with experts who can help them with questions about home improvement, cooking or even medical advice”. Did you notice the last part? I replaced medical with veterinary and all of a sudden I had a chill down my spine.
Right away I remembered reading about a vet in Texas who was suspended for dispensing specific medical advice online (you can read about that here), but I worried that if Google is involved then we are facing a formidable challenge. Google is not just a search engine anymore, and they have the financial resources to fight lawsuits. They are competing against Amazon, Apple and even Walmart for their share of the consumer dollar, so if they think they can make money selling personal advice they will find a way to do so.
Thankfully, the next morning I had a grip on my worries. I compared our profession with personal training and thought of the 3 benefits I get from a personal trainer, and why I pay for them.
- They motivate. When I don’t think I can do another rep of an exercise they encourage you to get another 2 or 3 reps.
- They correct bad form. It is easy to get sloppy and perform an exercise with bad form risking injury. A trainer can identify when this is happening and can correct technique.
- They can create a personalized program. Not every workout program is for everyone. I have some chronic injuries from my past life as a farrier, so my PT has created a program that goes easy on some parts of my body. Also, they mix it up so we aren’t doing the same thing week after week.
There are benefits I can get from working out with a real person with education and expertise, and veterinary medicine is no different. The question remains though, am I giving similar benefits to my clients, or am I making it easy for them to try an online solution?
The veterinary profession has been focusing a lot lately on customer service and communicating the value of veterinary expertise, to compete against other vets or even big box stores. Now we have to think of it as part of our plan to compete against online sources that are actively pursuing clients. It isn’t like someone is just using Google to search out information, now people can talk to real people or find how to videos. Check this one out from WebMD.com. Yes MD.
What is your digital strategy for your veterinary business? This is something to seriously consider, because if Google thinks there is money to make in this area then I wouldn’t be surprised if Amazon or others try to join the party. We are already seeing this with all of the major pharmacy chains selling pet prescriptions.
I’m not discouraged, because like my personal trainer, if our business can give our clients the confidence that they are getting the best personalized care for their pets or horses from us, then they will likely pay for our services. We have a relationship with the animal, We can palpate sore limbs or abdomens, we can x-ray or ultrasound, we can run lab tests, and we can prescribe appropriate medications. When I look at it this way we have to really screw up to give our clients the impression that what we offer is no different than what is online. If this happens, then shame on us for giving them an excuse to look elsewhere.
We shouldn’t let this happen.
Please share what you are doing to compete against internet advice sites.