Tag Archives: 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.

Finding Your Element

Vet school, coverI have recently finished listening to an inspiring audiobook called ‘The Element,’ written by the educational reformist and speaker, Dr Ken Robinson. The premise of the book is that each of us has something that we were, in effect, meant to do and that sees us truly in our element when we are doing that activity. Everyone’s element is different: some may find it in their career, others in their recreation activities. One of the major messages of the book is the concern that our current, long established systems of education actually act to move a lot of people away from their element and these people may be in danger of spending their lives never fully fulfilled and truly happy. It is difficult to really give a full and accurate review of the book in a short blog introduction and I think it suffices to say that it is excellent and that I have no hesitation in thoroughly recommending it as one of those must-read books and the type that you probably should revisit at regular points during your life.

Why am I talking about such a book, you may be wondering? Well, the reason is that I started listening to it whilst travelling up to Nottingham where I spent two days at the university both lecturing to and making my book, Vet School, available to young people interested in learning more about a career in veterinary. This is something I have been doing for a number of years now and it really dawned on me this year that the thing I really get a buzz out of is the actual lecturing itself. I can’t quite put my finger on what aspect of presenting provides the biggest reward and thus keeps me coming back for more. Is it the thrill of getting the right laughs at the right time? Maybe its the look of rapt concentration and engagement that develops on the audience members’ faces, the key aim I am sure of any speaker. The fun of taking what can otherwise be a set of dull, monotone subjects – Cancer in Animals, Parasites (especially at 10 o’clock at night!), Clinical History Taking, for example – and through careful consideration of what will actually engage your audience, craft a fun, entertaining yet educational, and hopefully inspiring talk? Then again, it could just be the sheer performance of it all. The opportunity to don a set of scrubs, show some funny videos and just, well, have some fun on stage. In truth, I think I would have to say that I love doing them for all of those reasons and it really dawned on me this year more than before.

The audience is a key ingredient, of course, and having the privilege of being able to speak with students who clearly have a hunger for knowledge and driving passion for their ultimate goal of getting into vet school makes the entire process that much more enjoyable and rewarding. The pressures on them to excel are getting greater and greater, with the obstacles that seem to be placed before them ever more numerous and large in scale. They are the true heroes of our profession as without their dogged determination and laser-like focus and unwavering commitment to their ultimate goal, the profession would not be able to continue to grow, develop and improve in the way it has, does and will, I am sure, continue to do so for many generations to come.

The pleasure of writing Vet School and making it available is one of, hopefully, being able to make the path towards a place at Vet School a little less of an arduous journey and to lend much needed support to those who may otherwise feel themselves slipping from the path towards their true passion. Now, I am not going to claim that the book has all the answers or that buying it will somehow come with a magic, ‘get in free’ ticket, because clearly it will not. Instead, I like to think of Vet School and My Foot In The Door as being rather like a sherpa acting as a guide up the treacherous slopes of Everest, offering valuable insight and guidance but not able to carry the full burden of responsibility for the climber’s own monumental feats of determination, savvy and grit to reach the summit. In my own personal view, every great journey and every great destination reached has its significance, enjoyment and sense of satisfaction magnified many-fold when it is shared. I think that’s what keeps me engaged in writing and why I genuinely enjoy getting to talk with and offer advice, as far as I am able, to those looking to enter our profession. That and getting to make funny videos 🙂

Did you hear the one about the haptic cow?

Haptic Cow, bovine simulator
The classic veterinary image

We’re all aware of the classic premise of virtual reality and the principle of experiencing a visual virtual world. But what about haptic technology? What does that mean to you? I had a unique opportunity to see this technology in action last week when I was fortunate enough to be invited to speak at Bristol Veterinary School and met with Professor Sarah Baillie, Chair in Veterinary Education at the University and inventor of the famed ‘Haptic Cow.’

I first became aware of the Haptic Cow when I was an undergraduate at Bristol myself, and found the idea simply incredible: using a computer programmed device to realistically simulate the tactile experience of pregnancy diagnosing cows, something that some vet students get immediately whilst others struggle with perpetually. I place myself in the latter category. No matter how many cows had the (dis)pleasure of me rummaging away fruitlessly in their general pelvic region, I simply could not make the link between the random ‘mush’ that I was feeling – or rather, gradually not feeling, as the blood in my arms was systematically squeezed out – and the textbook picture of ovaries, follicles and the various forms of the bovine uterus. The problem was that there was no way for the lecturer to help other than to tell you what you should be feeling and where. Most of us simply ended up nodding knowingly and feigned a sudden reversal in our ignorance. The truth was that it was easier to pretend that we could feel what we were supposed to, thus hastening our exit from said cow’s rectal area, than to battle on. After all, the cows don’t thank a trier!

Enter the Haptic Cow. The idea is that you, the user, reaches into a fake cow (a black and white fibreglass shell with a specially designed robotic arm inside) and attach the end of the aforementioned arm to the end of your middle finger – the one you would use as a ‘friendly’ greeting to someone you didn’t much care for – via a small thimble-like attachment that fits snugly on the end of your digit. The magic then happens when the computer program is launched and the ‘model’ of the cow is run. On the screen you are able to see some simplified representations of various structures, such as ovaries, and this is matched by what you are able to ‘feel’ in the simulator. It’s a very bizarre sensation but the truth is that using this technology, which relies on the computer program outputting to three motors controlling the robotic arm in three planes, it is possible to haptically simulate all manner of structures, textures and body systems. I was given the chance to ‘PD’ a cow, diagnose an ovarian follicular cyst, and even experience the sensation of rectally examining a horse, something that is an important part of a colic investigation, yet which is notoriously risky to the horse, and subsequently to the vet’s professional indemnity cover! Using the Haptic simulator removes all of the risk associated with learning these techniques and after just one short session I would feel confident going out tomorrow and diagnosing colic or telling a farmer if their cow was in calf. That’s incredible considering I didn’t manage to achieve that in an entire year at vet school.

The potential for such sophisticated technology in dramatically improving the standard and effectiveness of medical training is huge, with the technology already having been applied to modelling a cat’s abdomen for training in abdominal palpation, to teaching human doctors the fine intracacies of prostate examination – the model human a@*e was hilarious! I can easily see haptics being combined with augmented reality, or other such technological advancements, in forming sophisticated surgical training programmes, dramatically advancing career development and patient care, in all species.

Professor Baillie’s career is as equally incredible as her invention, having graduated from Bristol vet school with an additional intercalated degree, and then spending a number of years in clinical mixed practice. A forced break from the physical rigours of being a vet in practice led Professor Baillie to complete a Master’s degree in computing, in spite of no prior experience of the field, and led to the start of her work with haptic technology and a subsequent PhD and the Haptic Cow. After time teaching at London Vet School, Professor Baillie is now back at her Alma Mater, Bristol, providing students with the incredible opportunity to train with her amazing inventions.

Affordable Genome Sequencing

Nanopore technology

Okay, so not the most exciting of blog post titles but hear me out because this is some pretty amazing technology that I am about to talk about here…

Imagine a day when it will be possible to pick up a small, handheld device and with it rapidly and reliably sequence your entire genetic code, or even that of your favourite pet. “To what end?” I hear you say. Well, the promise of personalised medicine is one that has been on the horizon for many years and the technology that one Oxford company and team of researchers is engaging in is casting some light on the very exciting future that we may be facing. The principle of personalised medicine, as I understand it, is to use the information that is unique to you, ie your DNA, or genetic code, in order to identify the risks of you developing certain conditions or diseases and either specifically intervening to halt or manage such eventualities or, in the case of a disease state developing, such as cancer, using both your own genetic blueprint and that of the disease causing entity in order to select, or even design, tailored, targeted and ultimately more effective and reliable treatments. The prospect of being able to take a cancer cell, sequencing it’s DNA and identifying which drugs are most likely to be highly effective at eradicating the tumour, whilst drastically reducing, or possibly even eliminating, side-effects is one that is simply too important to ignore. But how could this be possible?

One company based in Oxford, and borne out of the research efforts of Professor Hagan Bailey of Oxford University, is leading the field in the development and application of nanopore technology to sequence individual molecules, such as DNA, and determine their exact composition. This is achieved through the use of a specially engineered protein nanopore set into a layer, either of lipid (like our own cells), or a synthetic material, such as graphene, and through which a molecule such as DNA is passed. This is a little like a train passing through a mountain by way of a tunnel. The really clever part is the way this apparently simple process of passing the DNA through the pore can sequence the strand and tell us the exact order of bases.

Nanopore DNA sequencing
Nanopore in membrane

A current flows through the layer containing the nanopore and the passing of the DNA molecule causes disruptions in the current flow, with specific, characteristic disruptions attributable to each of the four bases making up the DNA sequence. By recording these unique current disruptions the technology is able to identify the bases and the exact order in which

Nanopore DNA sequencing
DNA strand passing through nanopore

they pass through the pore, and thus sit within the DNA strand. In other words, it is possible to sequence DNA in real-time. Very exciting!

What about veterinary applications? Of course the main uses of this promising new technology would be expected to be applied in human medicine initially but it is highly likely that veterinarians will be able to make use of it as well. Potential applications obviously include veterinary research, disease monitoring, therapeutic uses, such as treatment selections in cases of disease states such as cancer, and much more besides. Rapid and reliable ‘kennel-side’ analysis using a simple handheld device like the one alluded to in the opening paragraph may very well be a reality in the not too distant future. Exciting times indeed!

For more information on Oxford Nanopore Technology and their exciting work visit their website at www.nanoporetech.com.

This is a good blog by someone who really knows what they’re talking about – a real life geneticist. Click here to read.

I wish I was there!

I am officially jealous! One place I would absolutely love to be right now is at the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. Widely regarded as the key technology show in the world, where the likes of Microsoft, Sony and Apple tend to showcase their latest cool gadgets, it represents every tech enthusiasts’ fantasy setting.

Just because I can’t be there (it isn’t actually open to the general public) doesn’t mean I can’t get excited about some of the futuristic technology being showcased. One idea that I find especially interesting is a technology being demonstrated by a UK firm, Blippar, who produce Augmented Reality (AR) apps for smartphones and tablets. Augmented Reality is the process by which digital content is overlayed onto a view of the ‘real world,’ for example, by viewing a bottle of juice on your iPad using the in-built camera, AR would recognise that product and thus overlay the ‘real’ image with additional content, that moves and changes with the view of the product. This offers incredible opportunities for providing value-addition to all sorts of products, for example, by showing video demonstrations, or providing e-vouchers linked to the specific product being viewed. The potential is one that has been recognised and Blippar are being sponsored by the UK Government to showcase their technology at CES – very exciting!

Being a vet I am naturally interested in the vetty and animal applications for Augmented Reality, of which there are clearly loads. Imagine, if you will, such applications as…

  • Waiting Room – reveal interesting and informative content about your vet practice, such as a ‘view behind the scenes’ or educational advice about preventative healthcare, such as lungworm control, simply by holding your phone up to the poster on the wall. Waiting for your appointment will suddenly feel like a pleasure as you have so much interactive content just there “in front of you.”
  • Clinical – not quite sure what your vet means by your dog’s cruciate injury? Well how about if the vet were able to hold up a tablet over your dog’s leg and show you a cool, biological view of where the ligament is, how it works and what happens when it goes wrong? I reckon that would be pretty interesting!
  • Surgery – So many applications…. so very many!
  • At home – Not quite sure exactly when your pets’ vaccinations are next due? Looking after your parents’ cat and can’t quite remember what medication he is on? Imagine just holding up your phone to your pet and seeing all of their relevant information displayed there in front of you. Would work well in an app, don’t you think 😉

Ultimate Home Decor

I have, as usual, found my mind wandering onto great ideas for where technology may take us in the future and something that some friends and I have been talking about recently is the idea of paper-thin HD screens that can literally be used in the home (or wherever) as wallpaper. The result being to turn your walls – whether you choose to paper just one or multiple walls and surfaces – into a giant screen.

Why would you want this?

Well, imagine the endless possibilities for interior decor and mood-changing of your direct environment. Having a house-party with a jungle theme? Well why not download a rainforest theme directly to your walls and you have an instant jungle-themed room, either with static images or, if you want a bit more pizazz and wow, with moving content, such as wildlife or plants being moved gently by a breeze. The possibilities literally are endless!

From a more domestic viewpoint, it could also do away with the need to even have a TV set, as you could simply view shows and other content directly on the wall, perhaps even combining the technology with gesture controls to adjust the screen size with simple movements of your arms. This kind of stuff really does get me excited!

So, what are some of the applications for this idea. Here are a few:

  1. Parties – instant themes & amazing decorations
  2. Home decoration – want a Picasso hanging in the living room beside those favourite family snaps? This would be easy with such technology!
  3. Content viewing – fully immerse yourself in your favourite TV show or film, or play that awesome game on a screen the size of your living room wall.
  4. Simple mood changes – feeling a little blue today? Well, you could change the colour of your walls to a more upbeat, sunnier colour, like yellow, instantly. This could even be an automatic feature of the ‘Smart House.’

So many amazing possibilities…..