VetCompass Australia – a leap forward for companion animals

VetCompass Australia stands for Veterinary Companion Animal Surveillance System Australia.

This is an exciting new initiative that will monitor trends in disease prevalence and improve the health and welfare of companion animals in Australia. This not-for-profit research project aims to collect data on the range and frequency of companion animal disorders and by identifying risk factors, facilitate development of effective control measures such as improved breeding programs and health screening systems.

For VetCompass Australia to succeed it will depend on the collaboration of veterinary practices and their clients.

How did VetCompass come about?

VetCompass began in 2007 as a collaboration between Professor Paul McGreevy of Sydney University and colleagues from the Royal Veterinary College, London. Today, the collaboration has the support of more than 450 clinics in the UK, with data from over 11 million records of care from 4 million companion animals. The program’s success in the UK has informed research into a wide range of topics, including canine kidney disease, epilepsy, pyoderma, various cancers, breed longevity and the use of antibiotics in general practice. For more information on VetCompass in the UK go to www.rvc.ac.uk.

How does VetCompass work?

VetCompass is essentially a software application that harvests de-identified clinical records into a centralised resource.

The system collects the health record of each animal’s visit to the participating practice, including signalment, presenting complaint, diagnosis and treatment. Researchers can then analyse this data to investigate the range and frequency of small animal health disorders seen in general practice.

The animal’s name is not collected; however, a unique identifying number is assigned to each animal, which allows the program to collate the animal’s history over successive veterinary visits. The only client information collected is the postcode of the residence, to allow for geographical surveillance of disease trends.
 
VetCompass Australia has the support of Australia’s veterinary schools at Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne, Queensland, Murdoch, Charles Sturt and James Cook Universities. These schools formed a consortium that succeeded in securing Australian Research Council funding to establish the program in 2016.

What are the goals of VetCompass Australia?

VetCompass Australia will bring the benefit of large amounts of data and epidemiological expertise to the companion animal sector. Researchers will investigate inherited and acquired diseases to determine prevalence and frequency within breeds, and when they most commonly present to veterinarians. It will help the profession to correlate trends in breed popularity with associated demands on healthcare investment. It will detect trends in disorders and associated risk factors, including genetic causes, leading to development of more effective screening and management protocols. Any research outcomes will be available on the VetCompass Australia website and in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, so as to better inform clinicians, educators, veterinary students and interested members of the public.

How can you become involved?

VetCompass is designed to work behind the scenes without disrupting the running of your practice. An initial visit is required by the project manager to access the practice management system and set up software to do automated, regular transfers  of the relevant data to the main database. RxWorks practice management software already includes a dedicated VetCompass Export Report tool and other packages are also compliant with the data-gathering system used. Participating practices can choose to be listed on the VetCompass website and advertise their support for the initiative to their clients. To find out more or to get involved, go to vetcompass.com.au or contact the Project Manager, Sophie Masters, at vetcompass@sydney.edu.au.

Melanie Latter
Veterinary Affairs Manager

This article appeared in the September 2016 issue of the Australian Veterinary Journal

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