Research

My user research consisted of 17 expert interviews. My overarching goal was to identify specific pain points where technology could simplify steps and improve the process of caring for pets with chronic health conditions.

I interviewed pet owners to learn more about the logistics of at-home care, their interaction with veterinarians, and any strategies they used to cope with difficulty.

I interviewed veterinarians to better understand the information gaps that occur between clinic visits and caring at home. I gained insight into what information veterinarians find most helpful, learn how they use their electronic medical system, and discover any methods they have for treating patients remotely.

Below I describe my goals, methods, and research results.

Expert Profiles

  • Pet owner, past: An owner who previously cared for a pet with a chronic condition that has passed away.
  • Pet owner, current: An owner who currently cares for a pet with a chronic condition.
  • Pet owner/expert: An owner who currently cares for a pet with a chronic condition who is also a veterinary medical resident or practicing veterinarian.
  • Expert: A veterinarian specializing in internal medicine that works at a local pet hospital.
  • Methods

    I conducted interview using a variety of methods, including in-person in a clinical environment (at a pet hospital), in-person in a neutral environment (coffee shop), remote via videoconference (Google Hangouts, Zoom), remote by phone.

    My Role

    I acted as interviewer and data logger during this research. I conducted the interview by greeting participants, explaining the purpose of the research, gaining verbal and/or written consent, and containing the conversations to 30-45 minutes. I recorded audio of my interviews to minimize note-taking during the conversations, and transcribed them using Temi.

    Interview Questions - Veterinarian

    1. Could you tell me a little about yourself? How long have you been practicing medicine? What made you want to pursue this career path?
    2. How would you describe the weekly schedule of a veterinarian? Very hectic, average, or relaxed?
    3. How many of the cases that you see every day would you describe as chronic problems, or acute problems?
    4. Do you find that you often send pet owners home with complex treatment plans? How compliant are pet owners in general?
    5. What tools, if any, do you use to communicate with your owners (email, phone, message) about their pet’s status?
    6. Do you think that you get accurate data from pet owners when they’re treating from home?
    7. Would you be willing to show me what areas of the medical record you refer to most often when you’re checking in with patients remotely?
    8. Do you know if this medical record has an API that filter data from the database into other tools? If you’re not sure, is there a support person who helps you use the medical record system and might I email them a couple of questions?
    9. Do you use any tools, apps, or other technology that integrate with a patient’s electronic medical record? PetPace is one example.
    10. If there was a digital tool to help you monitor remotely, what would be the most important thing you would want it to do to alleviate some of the problem areas we’ve discussed?

    Interview Questions - Owner

    1. Can you tell me a little bit about you and your pet? When were they diagnosed? What was your experience at first? Had you ever dealt with a chronic health condition before?
    2. What has been one of the most challenging aspects of your pet’s care?
    3. Have you had an emergency situation that necessitated expensive treatment for your animal?
    4. How often do you visit your veterinarian, or call for a status update or check-in in the clinic?
    5. Do you follow up with vets between visits? If so, how? How might you like to?
    6. Do you use any technology, including apps or desktop websites to help care for your pet?

    Results

    I was struck by the amount of work owners did to organize their pet care. Many owners created their own spreadsheets or carried around notebooks with them.

    Veterinarians modified treatment to work with owner needs, and spent many hours outside of the clinic corresponding with owners via email and text.

    "But he's an amazing, amazing kitty. He has gotten me through the one, the worst experience of my life in losing my husband. He has been here for me every day." —Owner of a diabetic cat
    "Most vets don't text their patients, and make themselves as available as she did for me. She really was conscious of how much money it costs to go to the vet, especially for emergency visits." —Owner of dog with IBD
    "E-mail is better than phone calls because you have the time to really look up the patients records...which is why a lot of doctors will call clients back in the evening instead of taking calls during the day." —Veterinarian, owner of cat with IBD
    "The hardest was just getting used to managing her medications and getting in the schedule." —Owner of cat with IBD and CKD
    "I have a little notebook and I sectioned it off so there are sections for the date, the time, what her numbers were. How much food did I give her because I weigh her food on a scale. So I know she's getting exactly the right amount of food, and how much insulin did I give her." —Owner of a diabetic dog
    "There are some owners that kind of just fall off the wayside, and that's tough because those really sick animals do need the type of treatment plan we're coming up with, but I know it's not for everyone. I do try to tailor the treatment plan. I've gotten good at knowing the owners and what I think they can do." —Veterinarian

    For Vets:

  • Two major issues vets deal with are cost and quality of care. Quality of care can mean perception of a pet’s experience, or the care the pet receives at the clinic or hospital.
  • Information the vet receives from owners is often unreliable. It’s nonspecific, confusing, or irrelevant.
  • Great vets spend a lot of time on their days off monitoring pets remotely via email or text. The expert specialist expressed a desire for some kind of billable remote care option.
  • Email is a really helpful tool for vets because it gives them a paper trail of communication with the owners.
  • Vets often play a psychologist role in trying to assess how much treatment they think an owner will do. Follow up is really important for internal medicine specialists.
  • For Owners:

  • Some owners report experimenting with dosages at home, either because they were suspicious that their vets have over-prescribed, or because they are cost conscious. Overall, most were trusting of their vets and felt content about their treatment plans.
  • Most owners did not log data except for those with diabetic pets who logged blood glucose readings.
  • Attitudes ranged from anxious to relaxed, and care-focused vs. cost-focused and proactive vs reactive behavior. Owners were equally split.
  • Many owners monitored their pet’s symptoms at home and used technology to help them remember information and communicate with the vet during a visit. Many did this in notebooks, using homemade charts, setting timers, or noting dates in their calendars.
  • Adapting to a new schedule presented the biggest challenge in many cases. Owners have to get home from work in time to feed their animals every 12 hours. They don’t feel comfortable traveling unless they have a trusted source to give medications and monitor eating habits.
  • Many pets don’t show clear behavioral changes, so it’s not always clear what’s making them sick, or if they are sick at all.
  • Treating pets at home produced a lot of anxiety for a variety of reasons. Owners were afraid of hurting their animals, of killing them accidentally, or because their social networks weren’t always as empathic or supportive as they would have liked.