Category Archives: Technology

Ideas and musings on all things technology.

Capital of, well, so much!

Royal Albert Hall, LondonToday has been another fascinating one here in London with a somewhat foggy start, on account of some fantastic food and the odd cocktail in Soho the night before, quickly giving rise to a cool yet revitalising jog around Battersea Park, with its incredible views of the power station and the rest of London further down the river.

Hyde Park, London
One of the many open green spaces in London’s Hyde Park

The number of spacious, beautifully green and tranquil parks here in the middle of the city is one of the perpetually redeeming qualities of London, and coupled with the centuries of history and rich culture really does make the city feel like a truly wonderful place to live and work. This view was reinforced for me during the day as I found myself with time free to simply stroll – a word and indeed action that rarely finds itself in use in my hectic life –  through Kensington, taking in the striking architectural presence of the Science and Natural History Museums, followed by a leisurely amble through Hyde Park, past the awe-inspiring Royal Albert Hall, and along the banks of the Serpentine, before jumping on the tube at Hyde Park Corner.

Imperial College, LondonThis morning’s first stop was Imperial College London for a lecture on Design Management as part of the MBA programme run at the school. I had contacted the school to see if it would be possible to visit whilst I was in town, as I had heard excellent things about their programme and was very pleased that it was going to be possible to actually sit in on one of the sessions. I was met by one of the Student Ambassadors, Masha, who came to the MBA course from a healthcare background, and found the session engaging, even feeling inspired enough to contribute on a couple of occasions myself.

Do Nation, London
Founder, Hermione and myself at Do Nation’s London offices

Next on the agenda was a visit to the offices of social, green sponsorship site The Do Nation, founded and run by my friend Hermione, over on Tottenham Court Road. One of the options visitors to my Iron Vet page have for supporting the challenge is to pledge positive actions through The Do Nation, rather than cash, thus helping to change the world one small positive action at a time. The Do Nation currently runs out of a pleasant, naturally well lit corner of the Wayra accelerator, a two storey space which is home to a plethora of innovative young businesses operating in the digital sphere, and the first impression upon entering is one of ‘Googliness,’ which apparently is what the people behind the accelerator (Telefonica, who own the mobile telephone network O2) were aiming for.

WayraI spent a couple of hours learning a little more about the running of a digital start-up and even had the honour of helping with some beta testing of a new website. One funny thing was that on account of me wearing a suit in what was otherwise a typically ‘starty-uppy’ office space (ie all jeans and casual wear), I suspect many of the people working there assumed that I was either an investor or official from Wayra, especially as they were due to receive a visit from a number of them that very day.

The view from the small tea shop near Carnaby Street.
The view from the small tea shop near Carnaby Street.

With a very business-centric day under my belt it was then time for a bit of simple R&R, and so I headed off to Picadilly to meet up with a friend, grabbed some tea in a super cute little tea shop just off Carnaby Street before hot footing up the Northern Line to get to an off-the-beaten-track Japanese Restaurant that literally served the best sashimi I have ever had, followed up by an amazing selection of Japanese ice creams. Truly incredible and yet another fantastic day, with London continuing to serve up treat after treat.

One Day. Two Very Different Organisations.

With another Windsor Triathlon under the belt today saw me pack up and leave the relative calm of Maidenhead for the altogether zippier pace of London itself, complete with obligatory traffic queues on route to my ultimate destination of Battersea.

My good friend Martin had kindly offered to host me in his apartment overlooking the currently-in-the-process-of-having-a-major-facelift Battersea Power Station, a breathtakingly striking architectural icon, with London to be my base for the next two days of my UK trip. The first challenge of the day, aside from driving there, which was slow but otherwise straightforward enough, was to find somewhere to park! London may have it’s charms but readily available parking options do not feature among them. After confirming that there was absolutely no street parking available in the immediate area, a series of exasperated text message exchanges between Martin and myself finally hit upon the option of parking at nearby Battersea Park, where I had the option of staying for up to four hours (at an exorbitant rate I hasten to add), giving me the chance to hop on a train to Victoria, meet Martin at his offices (Google), grab some food, take a tour and then head back to Battersea, keys in hand, to thus allow me to retrieve the car park access fob and thus be able to relax safe in the knowledge my car and worldly possessions were securely stowed away.

All the above went nicely to plan in the end and the fact that London is actually geographically relatively tiny became very apparent as my initial concerns about not making our agreed-upon midday meeting quickly evaporated as it transpired that Victoria was literally one stop along the train line. Simples!

Google – Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory for the Digital Generation

I had the distinctly geeky pleasure of getting a tour around the Googleplex in California back in 2012 and so I had already witnessed with my own eyes the sheer joyful awesomeness that a Google ‘office’ embodies. It was with a similar sense of giddy toddler-esque enthusiasm that I jumped at the chance to tour the London offices (or should I say, more accurately, one of them) where Martin works. We met at the lobby of the fairly standard London office block opposite Victoria, where Google rents space, and headed up to grab some lunch at one of the several eateries found within the Google-sphere. From the minute I walked in it was clear that these were no ordinary offices, with a funky, coloured reception area leading through to one of the cafes, where we grabbed our respective lunches, me going for the healthy option of a delicious turkey escalope and roasted vegetables, and joined the assorted throng of young Googlers all doing the same. Sitting there in my jeans, red Vans, matching red Swatch and Superman T-shirt I instantly felt right at home among fellow nerds, the vast majority of whom would quite easily have been able to totally out-nerd me. I had found my people! Seriously, one of the things that is almost instantly apparent at Google is the relative youthfulness of the employees, with only a couple of guys that I saw clearly being over the age of forty.

With lunch eaten it was time for the tour itself. It would be very easy to get lost in Google given the apparently random layout that seems to have been applied but on reflection this is actually a misleading mis-truth, as it was simply the fact that there is no uniformity to the spaces, as the futuristic corridors open seamlessly onto serene coffee enclaves at one turn whilst guiding Googlers into engineer areas, where the real digital magic takes place on the other. Our first stop was such a coffee area, complete with free snacks, a heady array of fresh coffee options and a naturally lit seating area complete with fake grass that made one feel as though we’d happened upon a San Francisco version of Narnia. Fresh latte and yoghurt covered raisins in hand it was into the recording studio/ music room for a bit of impromptu drum and guitar action before checking out the games room, makers workshop, massage studio, more cafes and even a 1920′s style auditorium where tech presentations are given in some style. Oh, and then there was the informal meeting ‘room’ that is basically the back of a London bus. In the offices! Love it.

Dogs & Cats & Familiar Faces

Battersea Dog & CatsGoogle fix had it was back to Battersea to get myself settled before an impromptu, spur of the moment decision to pop in and visit the Battersea Dog and Cats Home, literally a stone’s throw down the road from where I am staying. After asking if it would be possible to get a tour ‘behind the scenes’ on account of being a fellow veterinarian, I was guided by 2007 London graduate Phil, whom I am almost certain I had met before, maybe back in the midst of our university days, hearing about the day-to-day work of the home and the impressive plans afoot for a major renovation and expansion, the evidence of which was already on show, as well as being heard. The Battersea Power Station project is literally set to transform the immediate area and it seems that the dog and cat home is to join in with this major facelift, which will see, in addition to new kenneling, a shiny new vet clinic. This comes after the addition of an impressively designed and very modern cat section, complete with central spiral staircase and glass kennels, with extensive environmental enrichment to keep the resident felines as happy and stress free as possible during their (hopefully) short stays before rehoming. Such is the small world in which us vets move within that it wasn’t long before I met a fellow Bristol graduate in the form of Claire Turner, who later informed me that I literally missed out on the excitement of an evacuation of the site due to a bomb scare! (Apparently there had been an unexploded WWII bomb found over by the power station, which would explain the presence of the police as I walked past en route back from the home. Exciting stuff indeed!)

So, there you have it. In the space of a few hours two very different examples of good work being done here in the capital, and an incredibly interesting start to my short stay in London.

Made to Measure – 3D Printing

Originally published in the VN Times (Veterinary Nursing Times) – VN Times Technology Column – Made to Measure (3D Printing)

Made to Measure – 3D Printing

Will 3D Printing Revolutionise the Veterinary Industry?

What is 3D printing? Not “printing” in the true sense, but the building up of layers of material as directed by a 3D design, or template, crafted by a designer using computer software. The ‘printer’ merely provides a gantry for the movement, placing in space and deposition of the materials, which results in the object being built up. At present, they can only use one type of material at a time (plastic, resin or metal), but this will change in time as the technology develops. The main commercial uses at present for 3D printing are in both personalised retail and precision components, with unique items being created cheaply and without the need for investment in heniously expensive specialist equipment.

Veterinary Applications?

There are several areas in veterinary practice where this technology could theoretically be applied. Before we start exploring these, it may be worth agreeing to limit the scope of our future predictions, keeping initially to those that are more realistic in terms of being achievable in the foreseeable future, with some time given at the end to “go crazy” and really think beyond the box. Deal? Excellent.

Two main areas in which 3D printing may make an impact in clinics:

Clinically

Prosthetics & implants. The most obvious application. Need an individually tailored plate for Barney’s TTO procedure, with no need to wait for a next-day special delivery and no requirement to bend the damned thing into the precise shape required? Well Barney will have been CT scanned as a routine, with his specific, personalised body mapping data fed into the CAD (Computer Aided Design) software that will be used, at the press of a button, to design any type of plate, implant or prosthesis required for his surgery. The printer will kick into gear and before you have even finished scrubbing you will have before you a perfect tool for the job at hand. If you drop it then it really doesn’t matter as you can just hit ‘print’ again and produce another.

Remote surgical tool production & inventory reduction. One of the issues for any business using physical products is stock control and storage. The balance between keeping enough of what you may need in stock versus taking up valuable space and representing tied up capital is an age-old problem. Imagine just being able to keep in one of the most common items required and ‘printing’ any extras that you may need when you specifically need them. Quick, simple and elegant. The value for large animal vets on visits is also clear, as taking out a small, mobile 3D printer will enable them to manufacture on-site the specific materials needed for the job. This will reduce the need to take out everything-but-the-kitchen-sink that most large animal vets currently have to do, and help reduce the costs associated with transporting and keeping all of this equipment. The cost savings may even be able to be passed on to clients, making them happier in the process.

Off the Wall Idea

At home prescription ‘printing.’ Keeping drugs in stock is another ‘stock management’ issue faced by many clinics, especially ensuring that they are able to satisfy the requirements of daily clinic use and repeat prescriptions. The latter has, to some extent, been relieved by the online pharmacies who fulfill written prescriptions and thus have the hassles of keeping stock in, albeit at the extent of profit walking away from you. The future may be for clients to pay for an ‘e-prescription,’ which is essentially a highly specialised CAD file that they can get their at-home molecular 3D printer to act on, effectively “printing” their pet’s prescription at home, limited automatically to the strength, size, formulation and amount that you, as their vet, have specified. The client is happy because they get the prescription without even having to leave their homes, their pet is happy because they’re getting the right medication when they should, without any fears of sourcing counterfeit medications, and you’re happy as you know what your patient is getting and may well be able to charge a premium for this ‘value added’ service.

Clearly, the latter example is a little more radical than the first two but with the advances being constantly made in this truly exciting and revolutionary area, I wouldn’t bet on it being a reality before too long. Truly an exciting future.

Smart Phones, Smart Practice

Originally published in VN Times (Vet Nursing Times) – VN Times Technology Column – Smart Phones, Smart Practice

Smart Phones, Smart Practice

If someone had told us ten years ago that we would, one day, all keep a small supercomputer in our pockets, they may have been dismissed as some crazy, science fiction obsessed oddbod. How smug do we imagine them feeling today as that is pretty much what has happened, with a very high number of us all owning either iPhones or other such all-singing, all-dancing smartphones.

They have become so much more than just a simple means of making calls or sending text messages, with the ability to do virtually anything that we could imagine wanting to do with a small electronic device. They are information providers, email and chat platforms, games consoles, cameras, even tickets for everything from concerts to flights! Do they have a place in the veterinary clinic though? I personally think the answer to that is yes, they do, and I can see them becoming ever more useful to both vets and nurses.

One obvious use of smartphones in the clinic is as a portable, easily accessed source of information, from the Veterinary Formulary for rapid medication checks, to a video tutorial on placing a feeding tube, or lining up a dental radiograph for the best view. Being able to access information at our patient’s sides is only ever going to improve the quality of our service to them.

With the invention of apps, which will likely be heralded as one of the 21st Century’s Great Innovations, we now have some great clinically relevant tools at our finger-tips, for everything from calculating dose rates of medications and drip rates, such as the VetPDA Calcs app on iPhone, to more specialised apps and portable gadgetry like the AliveCor, which is an awesome instant ECG monitor that runs via the iPhone and a funky case, which houses the skin contacts and works wirelessly. All very cool technology and, even better for us in practice, all portable.

So where will the future take us? What will we be using our smartphones for in the clinic of tomorrow? It is likely that every one of us will use a portable device at work, through which we will have access to our patients’ notes, be able to easily design treatment plans, monitor everything from heart rate and rhythm to temperature, and even take payments from clients for in clinic purchases. The future is bright; the future is mobile.

Technology Advances & Its Impact on Veterinary Practices

Technology advances and its impact on veterinary practices – including e-CPD and e-learning options

(as printed in the Vet Nursing Times – see links to PDF versions at bottom of post)

The word technology means different things to different people. Many of us think of smartphones or sophisticated computers as cutting-edge technology and perhaps don’t imagine that there is much in the way of technological advancement occurring in everyday clinical practice.  The truth is that there is a lot of advancement in a variety of technologies taking place in veterinary practice, and it is some of these that I aim to share with you today.

Technology is, for me, anything that helps us to do our jobs better, whether it be enabling us to perform tasks faster, more effectively, or to enable us to achieve a better outcome for our patients and clients. In essence, technological advances should, and usually do, enhance both our personal and working lives. There are three areas in which we see advances in technology in practice. The first is clinical technology; the classic ‘vetty’ gadgets, gizmos and systems that make the process of diagnosing, treating and managing our patients easier and more effective. Secondly, there are the advances in practice management and client communication technologies, an area which in my opinion has probably seen the biggest changes and which offer the biggest opportunities for really impacting on our clinics’ bottom lines. The third area for focus is the use of technology in education and CPD, important in ensuring our personal and professional growth and where technology is certainly having a big impact.

 

Clinical Tech

Although our focus is on first opinion practice, it is worth noting the fact that as general practitioners we have ready access to the very latest clinical technology and cutting-edge diagnostics and treatments through our ability to refer to our specialist colleagues. We are, as vets, able to pretty much do anything that is clinically possible and this is, in large part due to the huge advances in knowledge, expertise and technology at our disposal within the specialist fields.

Imaging is probably one of the main areas in which technology is at it’s most obvious. Gone are the days, for many of us, of long periods stuck in a dark, hot, generally uncomfortable radiography suite taking multiple radiographs and getting more and more frustrated at how long it can take just to get a simple series of images. It was a revelation when I moved to my second job and discovered the joys of digitial radiography. No need to fumble in the dark with open cassettes and film or handle noxious chemicals, and the images were pretty much instantaneously available. The system I first encountered was CR-tech, or Computed Radiography technology, involving the exposure of a plate, as per traditional methods, and then the processing of these films by way of a digital system. Since then there have been further advancements with the emergence of DDR-tech (Direct Digital Radiography), in which the plate is exposed and an image almost instantaneously appears on screen without the need to manually place the plate into a processing unit. This is possible due to the use of a syntillated plate, or direct digital panel (DDP), which effectively replaces the plethora of film cassettes that we’re used to using at present. Never has the phrase “take a quick X-ray” been so accurate!

In parallel to advances in the technological hardware itself comes developments in software, meaning that the process of taking, processing and working with radiographic images is much more user friendly and clinically helpful. There are, for example, bespoke software packages that will guide the vet through the correct measurements required for planning a tibial plateau levelling procedure, for example. The reduction in the sheer size and amount of necessary hardware, coupled with the options of cloud storage, where digital files are stored on a remote server away from the clinic (think Facebook, whereby your profile is actually hosted on a server in the US, or elsewhere, and not all on your desktop) has meant that even the smallest of clinics can boast an impressively powerful and versatile radiography capability, with none of the hassle associated with the secure storage, organisation and retrieval of hundreds of radiographs. Much simpler and much more elegant.

portable ultrasound scannerUltrasound technology is another area where we have seen impressive changes in practice. From super-powerful, all singing, all dancing set-ups, such as the Logiq S7 Expert, which makes use of new matrix probes and B-flow technology, useful for assessing vascularisation in tumours, for example, to the miniaturisation of the scanners, allowing us to both reduce the amount of space taken up in our clinics and ‘take the scan to the patient,’ whether in a hospital or out on calls, the changes have been staggering. To have the kind of imaging power that we have in a device no bigger than a laptop computer is a sure sign of the advances in technology that we are enjoying as vets.

vgel endotracheal tubeOne of the key attributes of a true technical advancement is one which takes an established way of doing something and completely rethinks it, or revolutionises it. One such example of new technology that does just that is the v-gel, a new airway system for ventilating anaesthetised patients. The point to note is that it isn’t an endotracheal tube – that’s the revolutionary thing about it. Instead of inserting into the trachea, through the larynx, the v-gel creates an effective seal around the pharyngeal, laryngeal and upper airway tissues, thus positioning a large diameter opening directly over the larynx to permit normal gas exchange with no trauma to, or even contact with, the larynx. One of the key advantages of this new system is that rather than needing a tube that is in effect smaller in diameter than the trachea, the v-gel allows the tube to be larger in diameter than the patient’s trachea thus maximising air flow and exchange. The soft rubber tip, that atraumatically ‘plugs’ the oesophagus, also serves as a good counter to the risk from regurgitation under anaesthetic. Currently available for both rabbits and cats, with dog versions in development, these new tubes represent a fantastic example of a smart, cleverly designed advancement of an existing technology.

 

Client Engagement

MailChimp screenshotWe’re all aware of the need to better engage with and market to our clients, both current and prospective, with the level of competition between practices apparently increasing all of the time. The methods for doing so these days have never been so plentiful nor powerful, yet many of us are still failing to maximise on the potential returns that doing so could bring. One of the simplest ways of better engaging with our clients, and those who show an interest in our services, is through email and the careful but MailChimp email marketingeffective management of email lists. Email management services such as MailChimp, which enable even the most technophobic of users to set-up a mailing list, design a web form to be posted on a website, social media, or even accessed via a link which can be emailed, and then organise, manage and communicate effectively with the people on that list, are brilliant and it is amazing how useful they can be for practices. Imagine, for example, how impressed your clients would be to receive an email on their pet’s birthday wishing them many happy returns. Combining such a thoughtful gesture with a suggestion of a senior health check if the pet has just turned seven, for instance, could be an easy yet effective way of driving more business through your doors. Through careful segmentation of lists, such as having a list containing only those clients who own cats under 7 years of age, for example, it becomes much easier to provide them with relevant information that they will find interesting and useful, with the result being a much greater level of trust in and bonding with you and your practice. How many of us actively ask our clients or new prospects, for their email address? My guess is very few. The truth is that these days people almost expect to be asked for it and we should be making a greater effort to make use of the advances in email and online marketing, much of which is available either free or very low cost, especially when compared to other marketing media such as print. Done well, email could be the best use of technology you have in your practice at present.

Social media is another potentially powerful way to engage with our clients and to help make us stand out from the crowd. People are interested in what we do as vets and what can often seem like the most run of the mill, mundane, day to day event in our clinics may form the basis for a fantastic Tweet or Facebook post, which can encourage a conversation between people and raise the prominence of us and our clinics in a good way. Obviously care has to be exercised, like with anything, but Social Media is one surefire example of a recent technology that veterinary practices have a lot to potentially gain from. Some clinics have embraced this aspect of marketing, using it to converse with clients and to provide updates, information and education through the use of videos, for example. Engaging clients in such a manner is a great way of strengthening the bond they have with your practice.

vet using ipadSome clinics have embraced technology more than others with some even rewriting the rule books on how we can manage our practices. Vets Klinic in Swindon have just one desktop computer in their practice, with each vet and nurse issued their own, personal iPad on which the clinic’s bespoke practice management system is accessed, meaning that patients’ records are readily accessible no matter where you are in the clinic and making the consulting rooms, and other areas feel clutter free. Use of tablets also enables patients’ time within the clinic to be recorded, and photos and notes about their stay easily uploaded to their clinical ‘timeline.’ Owners can access their pet’s timeline and see in realtime how their pet is getting on. Clients are actively encouraged to register and book everything from appointments to surgery online, with an airline style booking system showing prices and times of appointments with each vet, with real-time variable pricing a feature and a discount on offer for clients who prepay in advance of their appointment.. Tablet computers do appear to be excellent devices for use in a busy hospital environment, with the ability to readily access a patient’s notes wherever you, as the vet or nurse, happen to be within the clinic.

 

Electronic Learning

nerdy vet with laptopThe internet has quite simply revolutionised the way in which we access and consume CPD, with webinars and online learning resources becoming ever more commonly used, and available across virtually every platform, from smartphones to tablets and the trusty desktop computer. The advantages are clear: access to reliable, interesting CPD without the need and expense of taking time out of our busy clinical lives or the hassle of travel to attend lectures. With a plethora of providers, including many of the drug companies, learning online can be achieved at little to no cost and represents a very cost effective way of ensuring we keep our CPD current and maximising our CPD budgets. The only limitation that I could see from my experience of ‘attending’ a webinar was the fact that as the event was taking place on my computer and in the comfort of my own home, unless the speaker was particularly engaging, it was very easy to get distracted with other activities whilst convincing myself that I was still learning as I had the lecture playing. This coupled with the knowledge that I could always go back to the lecture and view it again at another time only acted to fuel my distraction. Somehow there just seems less risk of this happening when you’re physically present with the lecturer and other CPD attendees present in the same room. But then, maybe that’s just me and everyone else is a consumate good student at home. With so many other distractions constantly vying for our valuable attention the challenge, as I can see it, is for e-CPD providers to ensure that their content is as engaging and interesting as possible, including the use of mixed media, from standard lecture-style presentation slides and speech, to clever use of graphics, video and animations to really bring subject matter to life and inspire people. After all, the last thing any vet wants after a long, hard day in the clinic is to sit through a dull lecture, even if they do have the option of switching over, as it were.

One of the exciting challenges for the future will be in seeing how e-CPD can deliver more practical training, with a physical presence still very much required at present for practical CPD courses. Maybe a stepping stone will be the provision of ‘learning kits’, complete with necessary equipment and materials which the student can make use of whilst receiving remote instruction via a webinar or other means of e-learning. Although e-learning is delivering a wider and more accessible range of CPD to the profession, available at any time, anywhere and in any format, it is unlikely that it will completely usurp the strong desire we have as humans to actually congregate in the same space to receive educational instruction and socialise, as is clearly demonstrated by the continuing popularity of congresses, such as the London Vet Show.

Whether we realise it or not, technology and advances in it are all around us in practice. From the scanners we use to make diagnoses to the equipment we employ to safely manage our ill patients, or the plethora software tools, both bespoke and consumer options, technology is pervasive and empowering. It has changed the way we engage with clients, market our services, and continue our professional development, and all pointers are in the direction of yet more innovation and technological advancement, I for one watch on excitedly.

Links to the PDF versions of the original article, as printed in the Vet Nursing Times:

VNT Tech Article Feb2013_p1

VNT Tech Article Feb2013_p2

Graphene – Does it matter to vets?

graphene sourceWhy has there been all this fuss lately about a substance that many of us have never even heard of and yet have probably all created each time we use a simple pencil, and was isolated using nothing more elaborate than strips of Scotch tape? What relevance could it possibly have to our lives and to those of us in practice? Well, it seems that the answer to this is potentially “quite a lot.” In fact, graphene is a material that is being touted as possibly leading a brand new industrial revolution, with multiple uses in everything from energy, computing and medicine.

What is graphene?

It is a form of carbon that is arranged in a 2D single sheet, with the atoms arranged in a hexagonal pattern. Discovered in 2004 by two Nobel Prize-winning scientists working out of Manchester University (UK), Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov, it has some pretty incredible properties, which are getting lots of people quite excited across a whole swathe of industries.

What properties does graphene have?

1. It is a crystal lattice of only 1 atom thickness
2. It is about 300 times stronger than steel
3. It conducts electricity much better than copper
4. It is transparent
5. It is flexible and take any form imaginable
6. It can be combined with other single-atom 2D lattices to create a whole range of unique materials, with properties useful to a variety of industries
7. It is the thinnest and lightest material ever obtained
8. It is harder than diamond
9. It is a perfect thermal (heat) conductor
10. It is very stretchable and can be stretched up to 20% of it’s original length

It is basically a SUPER MATERIAL!

These properties make graphene potentially useful in the following applications:

Flexible DisplayFlexible screens – the idea of a foldable, bendable touchscreen is possible with the use of graphene, given it’s properties of flexibility, transparency and conductivity. Imagine your own pair of barely perceptible clinical ‘glasses’ that enable you to access all of the clinical information that you could need instantly and in front of your eyes. Never again will you forget the name of Mrs Thing’s dog or cat, and MRI images will be beamed to your eyes the moment they are taken.

Computer ChipNext generation computer chips – the days of bulky computer stations in vet practices will be a thing of the ancient past, with super fast, ultra mobile, impossibly thin computing power transforming our consult rooms into clean, comfortable, quiet havens of solitude in which our clients and their animals will feel much happier. They will be so much easier to keep spotlessly clean as well.

Graphene the wonder materialNew composite materials – from advanced implants to fabrics with incredible properties, including the ability to sense changes in local tissue conditions, for example at a resolving wound or fracture site, the potential applications for graphene in medicine and surgery seems limitless. An inert substance, graphene could offer huge opportunities for the development of super strong, lightweight, yet non-reactive surgical implants, enabling us to successfully treat and manage a host of different conditions.

Chemical sensorsBiological and chemical sensors – graphene can adsorb and desorb various atoms and molecules, with this property lending graphene to the development of various chemical sensors. Being able to more readily and acurately detect even trace amounts of various biological compounds and agents, especially when combined with super fast, micro-electronics, makes the future for medical sensor technology a fascinating and truly exciting one. Simple implantable biological sensors could very easily make it from the pages of science fiction into medical fact, with the potential benefits, especially in managing and treating animal conditions, many and varied.

So there you go. The next time you scribble some notes down using a bog-standard pencil, just remember that the material you have probably just created is one that is poised to transform the very world as we know it. Imagining where it is going to take us in veterinary, and life in general, is an incredible thought.

For more information on graphene, including how it is actually made, follow the links to these sites:
Making graphene
The Story of Graphene
Graphene: Patent Search Reveals Global Race

Liquid Japanese Tech Awesomeness

Black + Blum, eau good water bottleReturned to work today to find my new ‘toy’ had arrived from the insanely talented guys at Black + Blum, designers extraordinaire. It might not look much but this simple water bottle is anything but. It is based on a Japanese filtration system that uses a Binchotan charcoal stick, which sits in place inside the bottle, lasts for six months and purifies even the dodgy tasting tap water at work such that it literally tastes of nothing. Might not sound quite so exciting in black and white, but it was pretty cool! I like the taste of ‘nothing added water.’

Anyway, like I say, just thought I would share that with you in case you too liked funky and functional design.

Go go Gadget, go!

Inspector Gadget, Go Gadget, Go
"Go Gadget, Go!"

Are you a gadget gourmet? A purveyor of all things gadgety, techy and, well, just awesome? Yeah? Me too. Friday thus saw me in somewhat of my idea of Heaven on Earth as I attended the Gadget Show Live, held at the NEC in Birmingham. Attending the day after having gone to BSAVA meant that my week was feeling more and more like a ‘professional holiday’ (if such a thing exists) – not a bad way to spend a week in April. The show certainly seemed to be popular, with thousands of other eager gadget enthusiasts all piling into the large halls that served as home for 5 days to a plethora of tech talk, demonstrations, a fair amount of ‘retail’ and, of course, the main event itself, the live show.

One thing I would say at this stage is that I did perhaps expect to discover a few more real innovations and “WOW” factor technologies than I did, with a lot of the exhibitors tending to fall more in to the category of standard electronics retailers, whether it be trying to flog us a new TV, games console, or accessory for our iPhones, iPads and other such existing gadgetry. Having said that, the standard of displays, stands, demonstrations, activities and talks was superb and it was pretty easy to fill an entire day. As mentioned, the live show was certainly the main highlight, with a fantastically well choreographed and stage-managed show that served up a good balanced meal of fun features, such as Laser Man, the robotic bird from the incredible talents at Festo, and the larger than life 3D faces of our hosts, to numerous chances to win big and bag some tech to take home, with the legendary Gadget Show competitions. The winners all would have gone home with a significantly bigger smile than everyone else, and that’s really saying something!

My mission, as it were, was really just to head along for the day with an open mind and see what was new, fresh and exciting, especially with a view to what might have interesting applications to veterinary and animal healthcare. Afterall, I am The Nerdy Vet so wearing both my nerd and vet hats felt normal 🙂 There were certainly a few stand-out exhibitors for me, with the main ones of note being the following:

1. Aurasma – a ‘virtual browser’ that enables you to hold your smartphone or tablet up to a particular piece of media, or real-life scene (eg a magazine, CD case or poster) and for additional ‘content’, whether it be video, a link to a website, or something even more interesting and unexpected, to appear on the screen overlaid in real-time. This is an example of AR (Augmented Reality) and clearly has some interesting potential for those of us in the veterinary field.

2. Damson – really funky, compact little portable speaker with a difference. Using resonance technology, these little noise-makers work wirelessly to play music and other audio from any Bluetooth enabled-device, such as an iPod, and basically makes use of the surface on which it is placed as a speaker. The effect is to instantly take a small sound when held in the hand and transform, for example, a table, fridge, or indeed any surface or structure into a speaker, boosting the sound. Definately elicted some “wows” from friends and colleagues at the practice.

3. FitBit – this stand seemed to be literally buzzing with activity and it was clear to see why. Their product, a small wireless smart sensor that tracks your activity over the course of the day and then uses some clever algorithms to track, record and analyse various health and fitness parameters seems set to really help in the battle of the bulge. The actual devices themselves are tiny – about the size of a USB dongle – and can even track how well you sleep. Very very cool. And judging by how well they were selling, very very popular.

There were other innovations and I plan to serve a few more of them up in greater detail over the course of the next week or so. If you’re thinking of going next year to The Gadget Show then my advice would certainly be, in the immortal words of Ben Stiller, to just “do it.”

Wireless Electricity? Really?!

WiTricity, electricity transfer, wirelessThe TED lectures that you can stream online have become one of my new favourite sources of downtime entertainment and, it seems, both education and inspiration. Seeing great people speak passionately about subjects they have a real buzz for is incredibly engaging and addictive. It was one of these talks that prompted me to sit down and write this post. The subject? Well, it was about wireless electricity transmission. Yep, that’s right. The transfer of electricity without wires.

Now, you’d be forgiven at this point for saying “why should I care?” Unless you are especially nerdy then the words that closed the last paragraph with will probably be anything but inspiring. But let me explain. The speaker, Eric Giler, told the story of an MIT professor’s sleepless night due to his wife’s Nokia mobile phone beeping to say that it’s battery was low. His thought was wouldn’t it be cool if the phone could simply access the huge source of electricity that was literally surrounding it in the form of the house mains supply without needing to be plugged in. Very much like your iPod, computer, laptop, and countless other devices now source their Wifi connection. And so WiTricity was born.

WiTricity, wireless electricity, magnetic resonanceThe technology works by means of a phenomenon known as magnetic resonance, in which a magnetic field induced by flow of electric current in an induction loop can, well, induce a magnetic field to form in another device and trigger the flow of electrons, or in other words, the flow of electricity, thus powering the device. Eric demonstrated the technology by placing a specially designed induction loop, about the size of an A3 picture frame near an average flat screen TV. Within a few moments the TV screen lit up! Pretty cool stuff. To demonstrate both the safety and the reliability of the system, the speaker walked between the loop and the TV with no disruption to the TV’s function or any obvious adverse effect to himself. The applications for such technology are pretty wide, as you can imagine, with the need to plug in any device, whether mobile phone, camera or computer to recharge a thing of the past.

The potential medical and veterinary applications are also very exciting. I can imagine a clinic where the annoying beep of a drip pump low on battery will be long-gone, or the ophthalmoscope that someone forgot to return to it’s base station still works as well as ever due to it constantly being fully charged. It may even increase the chances of us achieving the Holy Grail of a GPS-enabled implantable pet microchip. The main issue at present is how to reliably power such an implant for long periods of time (ie the lifetime of the pet), given that you can’t exactly remove it to change the batteries or plug your pet into the mains! Imagine if you didn’t need to worry about it because every time your dog or cat went into the house the chip simply charged itself safely, efficiently and silently, with no adverse effects to your pet yet the peace of mind that comes with knowing that when Pooky heads off again, you can log in and keep tabs on them thanks to GPS. Now that would be great!

A world of wireless electricity? Now that’s an illuminating thought!

Does your practice website ROCK?

Slash rock god guitaristPractice websites – does yours rock?!

The internet is more and more vital to the success of any practice, with the primary role being to gain new clients & help retain existing ones. However, simply having a website is not good enough anymore – it has to rock!

I recently attended an Entrepreneurs Circle event on websites and it really got me thinking a lot about what it is that vet practices can and should be doing to really ensure that their websites are as epic as they can be. I would like to share some of the thoughts that came out of this thinking and offer my take on how practices should be applying the lessons to their own practices. If you are serious about really growing your clinic then I do recommend considering joining the Entrepreneurs Circle.

1. Why have a website?

There are 3 main reasons: 1. to sell things online; 2. to get clients to call you; 3. to get clients to give you their contact details. Most clinics are interested in getting clients into the hospital so getting them to call you, and FIND you is key. Is it clear how they go about doing that on your site? If it is then the second question has to be is there a clear reason why they should bother calling you?

2. Two-second rule

These days we all have the attention span of a hyperactive kid with attention deficit disorder and expect websites to speak to us immediately. Does yours? Is it clear from the first fold (the first view of the homepage) what you do and who you are for? How does your site look on different devices, including mobile, which is becoming more and more important?

woorank.com is a great free resource for checking your site for a number of relevant parameters and will tell you where you can improve things.

Navigation is also an important point here as it must be clear and intuitive how users move through your site. Is it obvious how to contact you? Can users easily switch back to the main homepage by clicking the practice logo in the header, or do they have to follow a long, winding bit of digital string back to the entrance? If so then they’re just as likely to exit the site altogether and find a local competitor. Get as many different people (ideally those representing your clients) to play with your site and feedback on what they thought of the navigation and ease of use.

3. Google Analytics

Do you know how many visitors are coming to your site? Where they are entering and leaving? How many visitors compared to the number of enquiries or bookings made? What about the keywords that people are using to find your site? Information is power and Google Analytics provides information in bucket-loads to enable you to really drill down in to how your website is working and, most importantly, how it can be improved to bring more clients to your door. It is easy to set up for your site and your web developer has probably already installed it for you – ask them.

4. Reviews (What our customers say)

We all love to see that a product or service has been proven and word of mouth (reviews by another name) is still one of the most reliable ways to gain new business. I would sooner use a professional that another person, independent of the business, has had a good experience with than take a punt on an unknown – most of us don’t like being pioneers, especially when it comes to both the health of our animals and that of our wallets. Your current clients love you – if they didn’t they’d go elsewhere. Ask them for reviews, including photos if they’re happy for them to go on the website (most people are), and get them on your website in various, prominent positions.

5. Personal Touches

Veterinary is more of a people business than it is anything else and pet owners invest as much in the vets and staff they like and trust than they do in any other aspect of the practice’s offering, including price. You could be the cheapest vet in the entire country but if you’re as personable as Jack The Ripper then no (sane) client is going to stay with you. Show your existing and potential new clients just how awesome, friendly and personable you and your team are. Have photos of the team (nice, professional, smiley photos as opposed to dour, happy-snap ‘passport style’ mugshots) and include great photos of your clinic, including some scenes from both outside and inside, preferably showing what you do well.

6. Phone numbers

It is still the case that the phone is the most valuable piece of equipment in veterinary practice today – without it we’d be sunk! Is your phone number clearly visible on each and every page of your website? It is best placed up in the top right corner where it is most visible. Also, ensure that it is entered on your site as text so that it is automatically available to copy, call etc from a smartphone. One thing that might be worth considering as well is the use of call tracking numbers. These divert to your normal phone line but can be a great way of actively keeping track of where calls are originating from. Are clients calling you because they saw a flyer? Or have they searched for you online and found your website? Having a different call tracking number in each place provides a simple method for seeing which media/ marketing efforts are yielding the most calls. www.citynumbers.co.uk is a good place to get them, and they cost a few £ per month, so very affordable.

7. Language

Does your site read like you would actually speak with pet owners or is it more akin to something straight out of a stuffy office in Whitehall? If you’re aiming to project a fun, friendly, caring image then surely the language you use on your website should reflect the same. Have a go now by reading out sections of text from your website aloud. If you feel like you’re addressing the House of Lords when you speak then maybe the language needs revision.

8. Images

A picture does indeed paint a thousand words and the use of professionally taken, crisp, clear, fun photos of you and your team all working harmoniously together in your superbly clean and well equipped practice, surrounded by happy, content animals will do more to make your practice shine in the eyes of new and existing clients than any amount of well-written prose. A professional photographer needn’t break the bank and could well be a very savvy investment.

9. Video

A lot of websites make video available now and it can be a really smart way to offer an insight into what it is your practice offers. I find myself clicking to watch introductory videos on businesses’ homepages far more than I ever used to, and probably make the decision to stay on the site based on what I see more so than on what I read, if I am honest. A short, well filmed and edited video introduction to the practice, especially if presented by someone clients can identify with and relate to, will really help to bond people to your site and to the practice, encouraging them to pick up the phone and give you a call. One question that does arise is that of “to autoplay, or not to autoplay?” I personally have no issue with videos that autoplay as long as the sound is not on and I don’t run the risk of inadvertently blasting the quiet cafe or library that I might be in with noise. If it is appropriate then I can always choose to activate the sound and listen to the video commentary. Whether you choose to autoplay or not is up to you but it is worth considering whether some people might be inclined to navigate off the page rapidly if they are not prepared for a video with sound to suddenly kick into life. Short video is good, with no more than a couple of minutes generally being advised before people get bored.

There is a lot to consider when it comes to really making your practice’s website rock but with the application of some of the principles above then there is no reason why it shouldn’t be performing brilliantly and taking your clinic to epic heights.