Technology is a large, everyday component in the daily routine of equine veterinarians. It has vastly changed the way medicine is practiced and most days, we are glad for the advancement. Just don’t ask us our feelings when a battery dies, a cord gets trampled by an unruly patient, or the “wheel of death” won’t stop spinning on our home screen.
A day in our life begins when our computer-generated schedule is printed. To Litchfield, down to Deep River and finishing up in East Longmeadow is not uncommon in the life of a veterinary road warrior. Our first call is a horse with a high fever. We draw blood work, submit directly to our practice and have sophisticated results within hours. To help with diagnosis, blood work can be sent to a larger laboratory in the evening, with advanced testing available in 24-48 hours. All results are delivered to our phone via an app of course.
The second call is a horse with a forelimb lameness. We carry digital x-ray machines that produce images similar to the local urgent care—right there on the farm. The newest technology uses Bluetooth and cordless equipment (much safer around large animals). With a wireless connection, we send these x-rays to board-certified radiologists for review. All of this happens right in the barn aisle. Not a bone issue? No problem, digital ultrasound units are the size of your standard Amazon Prime box. Tendons and ligaments are evaluated in minutes.
Some days, even this isn’t enough to get to the bottom of a tricky case. Tertiary hospitals, such as universities or large private practices, can perform imaging such as CT and MRI. Further developments have led to the creation of standing machines that don’t require anesthesia. Places like the University of Pennsylvania have developed and perfected the use of robotics to quickly image the entire horse while they stand quietly under mild sedation.
On our way back up to East Longmeadow, a call comes in concerning a horse with arthritis in her knee. Traditional therapy has been aimed at treating with steroids in the joint. Today, other options exist that are directly derived from the horse itself. Blood can be spun down and incubated to concentrate the healing properties of platelets. Stem cells (taken from a horse’s bone marrow) can be cultured and placed into a torn meniscus.
With our bloodwork results now in, we can appropriately treat the horse with a high fever. Anaplasma, a tick-born disease, was identified on its blood smear. Our forelimb lameness x-rays are under review and our last patient has been making a roaring noise when working at speed. We grab our digital endoscope, pass it through the nose to evaluate the airway. We quickly see the problem on our laptop screen. A small fold of tissue isn’t moving normally causing a partial obstruction in the horse’s trachea (left laryngeal hemiplegia). This one will require surgery and we give a colleague a call on FaceTime to make sure our diagnosis is correct.
At the end of the day, we are thankful for the development of these technologies and our ability to continue caring for our horse patients in a more sophisticated manner. But please, ask your four-hooved friend not to step on the cord.