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Technology improves animal care outcomes

(Headline abbreviated, original headline: Technology improves animal care outcomes
Kaikoura network issues cause safety concerns)

Since graduating as a vet in 2004, Vetcare Kaikoura director Rebecca Fleming has seen many changes to technology which save time when analysing animal injuries and illness.

When she started out as a vet in the Waikato, Rebecca recalls using paper maps to make her way to her next job, while getting a specialist to look at X-rays meant manually developing films and posting them off before waiting four days for the results.

Fast-forward to 2019 and using telemedicine, Rebecca can send the x-ray digitally and have a response from the specialist the very same day.

She also uses a webcam to monitor her hospitalised patients, which saves her many trips to her practice, VetCare Kaikoura, which she has owned with her husband Dan since 2008.

However, while many advances in technology have allowed them to advance and streamline their work, the poor cellphone coverage and internet connection in the Kaikoura region makes it hard for them to take advantage of many technologies now available to them.

“We provide 24-hour care which means we are on-call all the time. We cover a pretty massive area; north as far as Seddon, South to the Hundalees and the Inland Road; about an hour and a half’s drive in each direction,” she says.

“That’s hard because for about 90 per cent of that area there’s no cellphone coverage.”

The unsafe nature of some of their call outs has made Rebecca and Dan think twice about sending staff out to areas without cell phone reception.

“We have concerns about sending staff members out with no cellphone reception, so that’s taken a pretty massive toll on our family,” Rebecca says.

“It basically means that Dan and I have to do all the work, so that side of things is difficult, as there are some massive pockets to both the north and south without any network coverage.”

Dan manages most of the jobs at farms throughout the district, meaning he is rarely at the clinic.

Being able to utilise cellphones or even an RT network would enable the business to operate more efficiently while he is out and about, Rebecca says.

“Dan can spend hours every day driving and it’s all just down time, he can’t return calls or anything like that, if I want him to call in somewhere on the way back I can’t get hold of him, it’s inefficient,” she says.
In the clinic, despite a rather slow internet connection, Rebecca, Dan and their five staff make the most of the software and technology available to them.

Their vet-specific software programme, Vision, runs through a server and enables them to manage their patients and records digitally.

“Everything is computer based, we don’t do anything on paper anymore. It’s easy to email full clinic records to other clinics and this improves animal care,” Rebecca says.

Blood test results are easier to monitor with text alerts from the lab, as well as an app to view results.

Accounts are now also emailed from the clinic and are increasingly being paid online.

“That saves us a massive amount of money, we used to send all our bills by post; there is no way we can afford to do that now, so it’s all done by email, basically,” Rebecca says.

VetCare Kaikoura also utilises email to connect with clients on a regular basis and has a Facebook page with more than 700 followers.

“While we don’t do a lot of marketing, we find Facebook an easy and effective way of communicating with clients. We regularly promote products, give animal health advice and advertise lost and found pets.”

Despite grappling with connectivity issues, Rebecca appreciates the benefit of technology and its ability to help a business run efficiently.

She and her team are embracing as much of it as they can and looking forward to a time when connectivity in the region isn’t a hindrance to their progress.

“We have coped for 10 years with what we have got, but I just think it’s actually ridiculous that there isn’t better cellphone coverage on the inland road, that was the main road after the earthquake and it’s just dangerous,” she says.

Rebecca has been working with a group of residents to petition for better coverage throughout the region but describes this as a frustrating process which has left no option but for them to take matters into their own hands.

“There’s no light at the end of the tunnel and there’s been no progress so a group of farmers have started to install an RT tower which will provide at least some coverage. We’re hopeful that one day we’ll have some improvement, but we can’t wait for that when it’s unsafe.”

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