The UK and Ireland are the starting point for their ambitious project to replace the old methods of recording veterinary medicine usage.
VirtualVet will be a hassle-free way for farmers and veterinarians to meet their legal requirements to record medicine usage, according to eCow, the UK company best known for its award-winning electronic bolus that monitors pH and temperature in the cow rumen.
But VirtualVet is an even more ambitious project, which eCow founder and chief engineer Professor Toby Mottram says can automate the collection of veterinary medicine usage on such a large scale that it will allow disease trends to be easily tracked, and areas of high antimicrobial drug usage to be investigated, as part of the international bid to minimise the increasing incidence of antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
The company says it is working alongside three Irish organisations, the Telecommunications Software and Systems Group at the Waterford Institute of Technology; Kingswood Computing Ltd in Dublin; and XLVets, to create and develop VirtualVet.
Professor Mottram was invited to speak about the project in Abu Dhabi at the recent Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture (GFIA) conference, one of the largest agriculture events in the Middle East.
He said the VirtualVet app is in development and is available on Android, and versions for Apple iOS and Windows will follow.
He invited anyone who’d like to test the app to use the firstname.lastname@example.org contact.
By utilising the inbuilt features of the smartphone (voice recording, camera etc), the app can record medicine usage on the farm, utilising drug bar codes and readable animal ear tags.
Using an intuitive four-button icon system on the smartphone, with limited manual data entry, it is marketed as a suitable way to transition to electronic data entry.
For animals such as cattle and sheep where there is a unique ID number, this app will allow the date, location, animal ID to be linked to the drug used.
Where animals are not uniquely identified, such as poultry and pigs, the date, location and drug can be recorded.
Two versions of the app are available, one for farmers and another for veterinarians.
The vet version is divided into Billing, Diagnosis and Medicine sections.
The aim is that vets can use VirtualVet to better record their activity.
Veterinary record keeping such as inventory control and billing can become less time consuming.
With improved recording and data collection, it will also be possible for large studies to be conducted, comparing large numbers of veterinary practices to identify issues and improve management to help vets provide the best possible service to customers.
A disposal section allows recording of the quantity and method of disposal of any excess or expired medicine.
The farmer version only contains the options within Medicine needed to maintain the farmer’s Drug Book.
All treatments administered are recorded.
A connection to the internet is not required to perform the main functions of the app.
However, an internet connection is required to upload data, access the VirtualVet online portal and therefore print off recorded information.
VirtualVet aims to provide data fields for not only the drug name, quantity administered, date and animal ID, but also information about the disease being treated, symptoms recorded and even the disease/treatment site on the animal.
There are plans to incorporate recording of animal movements and automatic notification of animal movements later.
According to eCow, movement records through the EU passport scheme which have evolved from paper based systems can be confusing, and humans are notoriously bad at transposing long numbers by hand.
As a result, farmers are often penalised for failing to keep records, even when there is no intent to deceive the authorities.
One of the claimed benefits of VirtualVet is automatic checking of withdrawal periods (similar to some robotic milking systems), to prevent contaminated products entering the food supply.
Information for disease tracking, whether it is direct recording of the disease or simply recording use of disease specific drugs, can be invaluable for food producers and governments enabling preventative measures to be taken to avoid economic problems.
But it is movement towards regulation and monitoring of antimicrobial use that looms largest in the background for the VirtualVet project, following increasing incidence of antimicrobial resistant strains of bacteria, along with the sharp decline in new antimicrobial drug discoveries.
According to eCow, antimicrobial resistance is a major concern in food-producing animals, not only because of the economic impact of a deadly, easily transmissible strain causing widespread loss of livestock, but also because of the possibility of a crossover into antimicrobial resistant human diseases.
“With the new EU legislation promoting more accurate drug recording practices for veterinarians, and the increasing risk of antibiotic resistant strains of microbes, the move from pen and paper to electronic systems is long overdue,” according to eCow.
Professor Mottram said the system could be used to monitor antimicrobial usage, to identify areas of high use, and therefore promote methods of reducing use, helping prevent antimicrobial resistance.
Or could be used to estimate the environmental impact of medicinal products, and help make informed decisions about how to reduce this problem.
Although initially marketed towards the UK and Ireland, VirtualVet access is expected to quickly expand to EU countries.