A program that collects real-time clinical records in Australia on the veterinary care of companion animals, including horses, is being rolled out across the nation, provided unparalleled access to data on key diseases and treatment.
The Vetcompass Australia program has pulled together all seven Australian veterinary schools and already has agreement from 180 Australian veterinary clinics to participate. There are commitments from industry and peak body partners to increase this to 80% of Australian veterinary practices.
Vetcompass is the first nationwide surveillance system collating clinical records on companion-animal diseases and treatments, covering cats, dogs and horses.
Researchers have described the rollout of the initiative, based on the UK Vetcompass program which began seven years ago, in an article published in the open-access peer-reviewed journal Animals.
University of Sydney animal welfare specialist, Professor Paul McGreevy, and his colleagues said the program collected real-time clinical records from vet practices and aggregated them for researchers.
“It delivers Australian researchers sustainable and cost-effective access to authoritative data from hundreds of veterinary practitioners across Australia and opens up major international collaborative opportunities with related projects in the United Kingdom and elsewhere,” the authors wrote.
Analysis of the clinical records collected in the database will reveal geographical and time-related trends in the prevalence of inherited and acquired diseases, identify frequently prescribed treatments, revolutionize clinical auditing, help the veterinary profession to rank research priorities, and assure evidence-based companion-animal teaching programs in vet schools.
The system involves automated transmission and de-identification of veterinary clinical records into the centralized resource.
Researchers can then immediately interrogate the electronic records held by participating clinics. As a long-term investment, the research potential grows as new records are entered and as new practices sign up.
VetCompass Australia will progress in three phases, with the roll-out of the VetCompass platform to harvest Australian veterinary clinical record data, development of the coding for data-presentation, and creation of a world-first, real-time surveillance interface with natural language processing technology.
“Advances in the collection and sharing of records from numerous practices will enable veterinary professionals to deliver a vastly improved level of care for companion animals that will improve their quality of life,” the researchers said.
Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world, with 38.5% of the 8 million Australian households owning at least one dog and 29.2% owning a cat. There are also about 570,000 pleasure horses in Australia.
The widespread distribution of companion animals meant that their health and welfare had a significant and direct impact across a broad socio-economic cross-section of the Australian population.
“Many areas of companion-animal research also have direct translations to and implications for human health, such as investigations into zoonoses (e.g., rabies and Hendra virus).”
The authors said Vetcompass in the UK was already transforming veterinary science there as the leading source of epidemiological data, with nearly 40 million treatment records related to approximately 6 million animals, from 498 practices, available for interrogation.
The authors predict that the project will significantly and rapidly advance the understanding of companion-animal diseases in Australia.
The Australian government has provided support for the project through the Australian Research Council’s Linkage Infrastructure and Equipment Fund.
The Australian system is currently designed to host 200 million animal records, which is estimated to be sufficient until 2020.
“These clinical records will reveal longitudinal trends in the prevalence of inherited and acquired diseases and their optimal treatments, revolutionise veterinary clinical auditing in Australia, help the veterinary profession to rank research priorities, and assure research-led curricula in veterinary schools.”
VetCompass Australia: A National Big Data Collection System for Veterinary Science
Paul McGreevy, Peter Thomson, Navneet K. Dhand, David Raubenheimer, Sophie Masters, Caroline S. Mansfield, Timothy Baldwin, Ricardo J. Soares Magalhaes, Jacquie Rand, Peter Hill, Anne Peaston, James Gilkerson, Martin Combs, Shane Raidal, Peter Irwin, Peter Irons, Richard Squires, David Brodbelt and Jeremy Hammond.
Animals 2017, 7(10), 74; doi:10.3390/ani7100074