Thursday, August 8, 2013

Interview with Dr Caleb Frankel, tech-savvy ER veterinarian

Dr Caleb Frankel with Voodoo (note matching bowties). Voodoo had a not so great start in life - now he's living the dream!
For those who don't yet know it, SAT recently joined the Twitterverse [@fawcettanne - tweet me!]. The social media naysayers may argue that Twitter is another source of whitenoise, spam and time-wasting...but its a brilliant way to connect with like-minded people in your field. Like Dr Caleb Frankel, founder of VMDtechnology.com and, it turns out, a passionate ER veterinarian, family man and rescuer of animals who have done it tough. He tweeted, I re-tweeted, we exchanged URLs and bam! SAT scored a wonderful interview.

Hi Caleb! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Hi SAT world! I would call myself a veterinarian by trade and a “techy” by hobby. I also have an unexplainable desire to wear bow ties. My day (and sometimes night) job is as an emergency veterinarian in a 40-doctor [ed: phwoar! 40!!! That's HUGE.] specialty and emergency animal hospital outside of Philadelphia, PA USA.

What attracted you to emergency and critical care? 

Actually, I was strongly attracted to internal medicine coming out of veterinary school. I was set on a residency. I love complicated cases and am a bit of a medicine head, and I pursued a high-quality veterinary internship with that goal. Then a funny thing happened – I realized I was good at and enjoyed emergency medicine more than anything else. I guess it’s the constant challenge that I love the most. I also truly enjoy helping people through tough times and most of my emergency cases involve families in stressful situations.

Dr Frankel with colleagues.
Do you ever see cases which make you question your move into emergency and critical care?

Yes! I think anyone in the trenches of our profession has days where the “grass is always greener.” My job is often very stressful (whose job is not in vet medicine?). Pet owners are often distressed, animals are very sick, and it can take its toll on nurses and us ER doctors. Sometimes I think it would be nice to have scheduled appointments all day or at least see a mix of routine and sick cases. Luckily, I have a network of general practices where I can do relief work if desired. The emergency hours are also not always conducive to having a family and a life outside of veterinary medicine. I’m lucky to work in a practice where work-life balance is valued whenever possible. At this point in my career, I’m very happy where I am. 

How did VMDtechnology.com come about?

In veterinary school, many knew me as the guy carrying around the huge palm pilot (I’m quick to correct them – it was a Dell Axim x51). I tend to have my pulse on all kinds of ways to make my professional life more organized and efficient. I remember searching for veterinary apps and examples of ways vets use technology early on as a budding veterinary student. And I remember not being able to find much. That was back in the time when smartphones and tablets were barely taking off. So the idea really developed in veterinary school because of a personal need. Now, almost a decade since first coming up with the idea, I’m finally getting it out there. The cool thing is that it has been really well-received already.

Dr Frankel in action.
It has been said before...vets don't seem to be frontrunners when it comes to adopting new technologies. Why do you think this is?

We’re certainly no silicon valley. Being “techy” and being a veterinary professional is not a common combination. It’s similar (and sometimes worse) in human medicine. Take digital x-rays – some of the most modern human hospitals still aren’t fully digital, but many 1-doctor general veterinary practices are. It sounds cliché, but if I had a nickel every time a pet owner told me our hospital was cleaner and more advanced than their people hospital, I’d be very wealthy.

I think medical professionals (veterinarians included) are so finely trained to require evidence and/or experience in order to try something now, that it is hard for many doctors to trust or use new technology. With that said, we are a profession in massive transition. When I was in school, I’d speculate that 10% of my classmates used technology to better their professional lives in any significant way. I’m exposed to numerous veterinary externs/interns/residents from all over the world in my work at specialty hospitals and can say that the vast majority of them are carrying (and using!) smartphones, tablets, websites, etc. regularly in their learning process. The change has been dramatic and real. And it’s awesome!

How do you see new technologies changing the face of veterinary practice?

Even 5 years ago, we couldn’t have predicted that mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet computers would prove so useful for medical professionals. New wearable technology such as Google Glass (see our mini-article here) could push the integration of technology to a completely new level. Then there is always the ever advancing technology within medicine (new procedures, equipment, research…). But I think the technology that will dramatically change our profession is in the evolution of what is now called “practice management software.” I have spent more time thinking about this than anything else, and I’ve developed some really big, and I think innovative, ideas on that topic (stay tuned!).

Can you tell us about any of your favourite apps for veterinarians?

Veterinary Apps are another aspect of technology that lags behind the rest of the world. Our human medical counterparts have a much more extensive list of apps to choose from. There are some interesting things going on in the medical app development world – such as Apple and the FDA’s recent discussions about regulating medical apps similar to medical devices. Currently, my most useful apps are actually “general” ones that I use in for professional purposes. My favourites are Evernote and Google Drive (see our recent two-part article here).

I also use iSilo for the Plumb’s Veterinary Handbook (still awaiting a release of the 7th edition), the Bayer Target Manual, Epocrates, a few others. A company in Canada, Timeless Veterinary Systems, is doing some really innovative things in veterinary app development. I’m currently exploring their very new app, the Timeless Vet Drug Index, which is evidence-based and really intuitive to use. The future is looking up!

What about your favourite vet-related websites?


Do you think veterinarians use the web and social media effectively for continuing education? Could we do it better?

This is the very topic of a future post. One of my colleagues is involved in a great new project called VetGirl which is a web- and podcast-based continuing education service for veterinarians. It’s really good stuff- check it out!

[Ed: I did and we've posted about one of the seminar's on smallanimaltalk].

I’m also a huge fan of On the Floor @ Dove. This is probably the most comprehensive online hospital continuing education service out there besides some of the major veterinary websites such as VIN and IVIS. VetVine is another innovative website doing some interesting continuing education work with vets.  I also think our industry’s trade publications (see our survival guide on this topic here) are going to big players in online continuing education in the future. In terms of social media – I see this more as a tool to connect us to these resources, rather than CE resources themselves.

How do you unwind offline?

I try to be very conscious of the importance of offline time. One of my favourite articles that I frequently go back to is a piece in the New York Times on “thebusy trap”. It reminds me about the rat race we have created for ourselves in this crazy connected world and the importance of making time to wind down. Everything in moderation, right? I have many wonderful friends from different parts of my life that I try to spend time with at every possible moment. These days, I spend most of my down time with my wonderful and supportive wife and our new twin sons. I can’t get enough time with them. I am also an eager traveller, live music fan, and enjoy playing and watching most team sports.

[Ed: just downloaded and read that article - loved it!]

Can you tell us about any non-humans in your life - how did you meet and what do you do together?

I’m a rescuer! My best buddy Voodoo is an 8-year-old Labrador/Boxer mix who was rescued from a terrible situation when I was in veterinary school. He loves to rough-house and play ball, although these days his favourite pastime is acting as a stationary vacuum below two high chairs from which yummy snacks constantly rain. I also have a cat named Benjamin Franklin who was rescued from a house fire when he was only days old. He is a little prickly, and likes to be pet, but only on his time.

Any parting words of advice for veterinarians and veterinary students?


We’re a really unique group of individuals in a very small profession and I’m always amazed with my colleagues and what you are doing at any given moment. But our profession has some very real challenges. I believe many of them can be solved through technology. So, embrace technology. Tinker, explore, innovate! That and check out VMDtechnology.com : )

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