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Pembroke

Pembroke Entrepreneurs: Supporting Vets with InteliVet

Katie Fox (2014) is a fifth year Veterinary Medicine student. She was recently awarded the Parmee Prize for Entrepreneurship and Enterprise for InteliVet, an AI-based system for helping vets make clinical decisions based on the latest evidence-based research. 

Katie presenting InteliVet at the 2019 Parmee Prize

Katie, tell us about yourself.

This is my fifth year studying at Pembroke and I’m studying veterinary medicine. I’m from Sheffield originally. I did my third year in theology so I’ve taken a slightly strange route. And this is the second time I’ve done the Parmee prize.

"When I find an inefficiency or a problem, my first thought is generally to ask, how can I solve this, what could be a solution, what could work?"

Where do your ideas come from?

When I find an inefficiency or a problem, my first thought is generally to ask, how can I solve this, what could be a solution, what could work? I think I’ve always thought like that. Even at school I tried little businesses and did business competitions. And naturally being a vet student and being in the veterinary world you’re always seeing things where you think, we could improve this process, or there’s an opportunity to do this.

That brings us on to InteliVet, and there’s a very direct connection there because it’s for newly graduated vets.

Yeah, I’m going on placement a lot at the minute and seeing new graduate vets in practice and learning from them and their experiences. I guess something I’ve noticed generally was that a lot of new graduate vets seemed stressed. People think that vet school is hard but in some ways your first year in practice is harder because you’re just on your own. You’ve got no backup a lot of the time. I’ve definitely seen that in the practices I’ve been to. I’ve seen quite a variety actually; it really depends on the team that’s around them. I saw that maybe that was something that could change and would be great if it could change, if it was more supportive.

How will InteliVet work?

I see it being used for diseases and care management decisions which would ideally be taken at a referral level, and definitely would be with a human patient. But for reasons of practicality with animals, not being near a referral hospital, not having thefinancial resources to refer on, they’re being treated by the equivalent of a GP, a general vet. The idea of InteliVet is that it will support these vets, who are required to know a really broad range of diseases to a high level, and treat them at every stage.

You combine patient-specific data which could be parameters they currently have at the moment, or the characteristics of that animal like its breed or its age, with the latest evidence. Plug all the information in and it will give a personalised set of treatment recommendations at each stage of the decision-making process. It should be quick and easy to see the different options a vet could take.

Importantly it will not only give a link to the scientific papers supporting that decisions, but also give a rationale about why, for example, a certain drug isn’t appropriate in this case because it’s contra-indicated when the animal is already on another drug. InteliVet will do the big holistic thinking which I think is where mistakes are often made. You might not necessarily be aware of all contra-indications, that kind of thing.

What about the technology that’s driving InteliVet, the AI system?

It’s something which has been around for a while in hospitals. The NHS has been trialling it in various places for, I want to say 10 or 15 years actually. They’ve seen great success with it in reducing medical error, even at a high level of medicine – referral hospitals, consultants who have years of experience – they find that using these decision support platforms, which basically fill in any holes of human error, is really really helpful. And definitely improves patient outcome.

It can seem slightly like the enemy to some doctors. I know there’s mixed feelings about introducing AI into healthcare. But I think when used in these capacities as very much an add-on, adjunct to support, it can be really helpful to doctors.

"having this kind of comprehensive support will inevitably increase their decision-making skills and their knowledge base, because they’re always tapped into the latest advice."

So InteliVet provides vets with references and suggestions, but they’ll still be critically evaluating the result?

Yeah, and hopefully this actually will accelerate and improve the standard that vets are working at. If the only source of support is one or two colleagues, no matter how good they are they’re not going to know everything. And having this kind of comprehensive support will inevitably increase their decision-making skills and their knowledge base, because they’re always tapped into the latest advice.

And what’s the context of this? Why is now the right time to launch this in vet practices?

The profession has changed a lot in the last 20-30 years, since non-vets were allowed to own vet practices. That’s when big corporate practices started buying them up. And now we think more than half of vet practices in the UK are owned by a handful of very big companies. This means that there’s a framework for having one model of doing things and rolling it out on a large scale quickly. It’s a model slightly closer to the NHS where you have centralised systems. And they have money to invest in these things. We’re not operating on the small business scale that up to now a lot of vets have been working at. And they have whole departments dedicated to growing their businesses and seeing how they can recruit more vets, retain the vets they already have, provide them with a good experience that encourages vets to keep working in that practice.

We’ve got quite a shortage of vets in the UK at the moment. I think the biggest corporate vet practices in the UK have about a 10% shortfall in their veterinary practice, so there’s quite a lot of competition between practices to attract vets to work for them. It’s another incentive to roll out something like InteliVet in their practices.

"Everyone has to start somewhere. I’m not really sure how it’ll turn out. But it’s something that I love doing, I’ve always enjoyed thinking in an entrepreneurial way, and I want to do something I enjoy."

What’s the business side been like? Has the Parmee Prize been helpful?

Definitely. It really made me sit down and think, I’ve thought about this from an academic perspective, now I need to think that this thing needs to make money if it’s going to employ people and work! I’ve really enjoyed the process so far. I am very aware of my own limitations. I know I will definitely benefit from having good advice from people who have done this sort of thing before and actually I already have. The judges of the Parmee prize have offered me a lot of support so I’m really grateful for that. I guess it’s a journey which I’m just starting.

Everyone has to start somewhere. I’m not really sure how it’ll turn out. But it’s something that I love doing, I’ve always enjoyed thinking in an entrepreneurial way, and I want to do something I enjoy.