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Shadi Ireifej of VetTriage: “Staff are key to the success of a business and a good business owner wants to see them succeed”

For both security and customization reasons, we created our own software to make VetTriage possible. We designed the software like an electronic medical record. We have recording capabilities. We can send files and documents via the software, and we can do so much more. This helps people by virtue of the fact that they can […]

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For both security and customization reasons, we created our own software to make VetTriage possible. We designed the software like an electronic medical record. We have recording capabilities. We can send files and documents via the software, and we can do so much more. This helps people by virtue of the fact that they can get peace of mind from a veterinarian anytime, from anywhere on the globe, for any species.

Additionally, we will help veterinary staff and clinics: increased revenue and increased hiring potential while minimizing compassion fatigue and workplace-culture toxicity, decreasing client wait-times, saving money for rescue organizations, avoiding frustrating and potentially dangerous self-diagnoses from websites and social media forums, and so much more.


The telephone totally revolutionized the way we could communicate with people all over the world. But then came email and took it to the next level. And then came text messaging. And then came video calls. And so on…What’s next? What’s just around the corner?

In this interview series, called ‘The Future Of Communication Technology’ we are interviewing leaders of tech or telecom companies who are helping to develop emerging communication technologies and the next generation of how we communicate and connect with each other.

As part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shadi J. Ireifej DVM DACVS who graduated from the State University of New York at Binghamton where he received his Bachelor of Science degree in Biology (2001, Magna cum laude). He then attended Cornell University where he received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree (2006, DVM).

After completing his studies at Cornell, Dr. Ireifej participated in an intense one-year small animal medicine and surgery rotating internship at Angel Animal Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts (2007), followed by two rigorous one-year small animal surgical internships at Long Island Veterinary Specialists (LIVS) in Plainview, New York (2009).

Dr. Ireifej achieved his board certification in small animal surgery by completing a three-year small animal surgery residency at LIVS (2012), and subsequently became a Diplomat for the American College of Veterinary Surgeons (DACVS). After operating for almost 10 years at LIVS, Dr. Ireifej elected for warmer weather, and transplanted to Las Vegas, Nevada in 2016.

In Las Vegas, Dr. Ireifej became a staff surgeon at Las Vegas Veterinary Specialty Center (LVVSC). In 2017, he began flying across the United States, performing surgeries at a number of emergency and specialty hospitals in need of surgical assistance. This was followed by a Chief of Surgery position at United Veterinary Specialty and Emergency in Silicon Valley, California. Managing their three locations, Dr. Ireifej and his team successfully cared for dogs and cats in the Campbell, Mountain View, and San Jose areas.

In 2018, Dr. Ireifej joined TrueCare for Pets in the Los Angeles, California area as Chief of Specialty, where he was instrumental in morphing the after-hours and weekend emergency hospital to a successful 24/7 emergency and multi-specialty veterinary hospital. While the size of the hospital tripled, Dr. Ireifej instituted hospital-wide protocols, managed the surgery, internal medicine, and oncology departments, and became a leading force on social media platforms.

In 2020, Dr. Ireifej changed gears in his already illustrious career, finding a novel and state-of-the-art means of reaching concerned pet owners and their ill pets worldwide, VetTriage. Dr. Ireifej currently serves as their Chief Medical Officer.

Shadi has been published in scientific and medical journals, and enjoys lecturing to a variety of audiences. He is known for being a positive and energetic force, both professionally and personally.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory” and how you got started?

After almost 15 years of being in the field of veterinary medicine, in the classic or traditional sense, and having practiced in almost every sphere there is within the profession, I wanted to change gears. Fortunately, I suppose, the pandemic coincided with an idea I had for many years: veterinary telemedicine. I immediately launched VetTriage in early 2020.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

To most, the majority of my professional career is interesting. To me and my colleagues in the field, however, transitioning from a board certified surgeon to a televeterinarian and spearheading a movement in veterinary telemedicine is my most interesting story. It is the culmination of many, many years of training in medicine and business, as well as tackling the profound inherent problems in the field that most are completely unaware of. Additionally, this is the first business I have launched on my own, in a veterinary space that has been previously unexplored, but which involves many, many layers in order to succeed.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Where must we go, we who wander this wasteland, in search of our better selves,” reads the final title card of the 2015 film, Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s a quote from The First History of Man, a fictional book that exists within the Mad Max universe.

I have spent the vast majority of my entire childhood and adult life in academia, focused on a path that is all too common in veterinary medicine: a board certified veterinary surgeon. Almost 15 years later, I am now working from home, hiring televeterinarians, lobbying for new legislation, changing the veterinary culture, and spearheading a telehealth movement in my field. That quote speaks to me because after thinking I had been working towards one goal, it turned out that I may have been prepping myself for an entirely different goal, unknowingly.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are so many. But I have to focus on three people, two from my early life, and one from later in my life. The former are my parents. They gave me the breathing room to explore a profession that is largely unpopular in my culture and make my own path, while allowing me to deal with the consequences of those decisions. They are always supportive and inquisitive, but never intrusive.

The latter is Dr. Dominic Marino. Beyond teaching me everything I know with regards to surgery, he taught me the business side of veterinary medicine, the managerial skills I need to run the show, the legal side of the profession, and, perhaps most importantly, to think outside the box and fight tooth and nail for what you want professionally.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

VetTriage brings professional, compassionate, and experienced veterinary advice to concerned owners of animals and pets globally: folks who have financial limitations, geographic restrictions, or are in quarantine due to COVID with pets who are aggressive, large, or prone to stress; those with health or emotional issues whose veterinary clinics are booked for weeks or months, and emergency veterinary hospitals with 4 to over 8-hour wait times; those seeking a second or third veterinary opinion, and more are now able to receive veterinary advice from a location of their choosing anytime, any day, for any species, anywhere in the world. That is literally a veterinarian’s dream come true when it comes to bringing goodness to the world.

Additionally, we are improving a progressively toxic culture in the veterinary field. Veterinarians and veterinary staff are overworked, pets cannot possibly get the individual care they need, and clients cannot get the individual attention they need. Wait times to see a veterinarian are impractical, costs for veterinary care are rising, and more and more clients are self-diagnosing their pets online. Our current telemedicine legislation is strangulating, antiquated, and slow to keep up with changing times. Our shelters are overpopulated, and euthanasias are astronomical in number. These are only some of the many problems associated with the profession that are causing young veterinarians to abandon their careers, clients to angrily post negative reviews online, animals to suffer or die, and so much more. VetTriage is at least one major, plausible, effective, and seamless solution to these issues.

Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about the cutting edge communication tech that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

For both security and customization reasons, we created our own software to make VetTriage possible. We designed the software like an electronic medical record. We have recording capabilities. We can send files and documents via the software, and we can do so much more. This helps people by virtue of the fact that they can get peace of mind from a veterinarian anytime, from anywhere on the globe, for any species.

Additionally, we will help veterinary staff and clinics: increased revenue and increased hiring potential while minimizing compassion fatigue and workplace-culture toxicity, decreasing client wait-times, saving money for rescue organizations, avoiding frustrating and potentially dangerous self-diagnoses from websites and social media forums, and so much more.

How do you think this might change the world?

By helping countless animals globally who would not be able to receive veterinary care otherwise, improving the overall culture of the veterinary profession, and continuing to use the latest technological advancements to further advance veterinary care.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

Pet owners need to be on the lookout for copycats. VetTriage is the only one of its kind as of this point in time, and is veterinary owned and operated, which is also not found elsewhere. This means that pets, clients, and the veterinary community are kept in mind — culturally, ethically, and professionally. This also means that a gold standard of care is practiced: upholding medical ethics and the latest medical research is incorporated into the business model. Those who care less about the individual client and pet, and more about the bottom line, are potential sources of bad and dangerous information for pet owners. Do your research. Investigate who owns other seemingly similar companies, who is actually on their staff, and what their online reviews look like before committing to trusting them with advice for your sick pet.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

I had enough with the inherent and apparently acceptable cultural toxicity in the field. After devoting my entire life to it, and seeing how this profession operates on a day-to-day basis as well as over many years on the whole, I became very discouraged. You can see the same thing happening to new doctor graduates of veterinary school and to veterinary support staff, especially the veterinary technicians. Additionally, clients need a resource for getting peace of mind regarding their pet’s ailments during times where veterinarians are booked for weeks or months, ER hospitals have hours and hours of wait-times, and the verifiability of the information online is in question.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

I need the pet population and veterinary medical community to become educated on veterinary telemedicine, with a special focus on the company or companies that will meet all the gold standard criteria. VetTriage is the only veterinary telehealth company that meets those standards, as biased as that may seem. I am also the most experienced televeterinarian in history, dare I say it. Education and awareness are key to improving all the problems inherent with the field, and to increasing veterinary access to folks around the globe, in every aspect of the animal industry.

The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them, of course, is how we work and how we communicate in our work. How do you think your innovation might be able to address the new needs that have arisen as a result of the pandemic?

VetTriage is literally based on these “new normals”. Appointments, leaving your home or work place, stressing your pet during the commute to the veterinarian, looking for an available veterinarian, and so forth, are a thing of the past with veterinary telemedicine. We can prioritize animals who are ill or hurt in the clinic setting, give safe and effective advice over any electronic device, and replace online searches and self-diagnosing. We can save rescue groups thousands of dollars and, in turn, save millions of lives. All of these mentioned benefits, and those unmentioned, tie-in and connect to every negative that exists in the profession.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. The ramp up of any business will have ebbs and flows. Just when you think you are skyrocketing, things pull back unexpectedly, and then ramp up again. Our numbers doubled every month for the first few months since our launch. Then they plateaued for several months. The concerning moment occurred in January 2021, where by week three, it appeared that we would not even reach the numbers of the plateaued months. Suddenly the last week skyrocketed as a surge of veterinary clinics partnered with VetTriage. This rejuvenated the company and we’ve been beyond back on track ever since.
  2. Customer service is different in a “retail” environment, and takes more patience and compromise. With online ratings and opinions being so commonplace, there appears to be a balance between maintaining a firm stance on our viewpoint during a rare client dispute, and letting go of that stance to avoid negativity and blowback on social media platforms. We rely heavily on such platforms to spread the word about VetTriage as well as making positive feedback public. Thankfully these occurrences are super rare, but will undoubtedly become more common as the company grows.
  3. Ideas come much faster than the execution of them. This is the most frustrating realization. As a surgeon and naturally passionate person, I am also apparently impatient. Once I realize an amazing idea, or new technology or update to add to VetTriage, I not only desire it immediately, but I want it yesterday! It takes a large team to make VetTriage successful, and that means working with everyone else’s timetables and abilities, which will not always match my own.
  4. Running a 24/7 operating business really does mean you as the owner will be working 24/7 for the initial stages. We offer a novel service based on convenience and healthcare. Emergencies strike at anytime and typically, time is of the utmost importance. Emergencies are by definition time-sensitive. Because of these basic realizations, and because our company is completely dependent on human beings answering concerned pet parent’s calls, 24/7 means exactly that. I have had many consecutive nights where sleep was broken or did not exist. Then the daytime arrives, where meetings, blogs, journalist interviews, podcast interviews, and many other scheduled tasks still have to occur. As you would imagine, this takes a heavy toll on you mentally and physically.
  5. Staff are key to the success of a business and a good business owner wants to see them succeed. However, you have to remember they aren’t a business owner and will never have the same passion and buy-in as you, the owner, and that is perfectly fine, but hard to accept at first. This is especially true with a 24/7 business model. You would like your staff to invest in it the way you, as an owner, have invested in it. But I realized, from their point of view, that they want to make money and have a certain quality of life, all the while feeling good about the work they put in. This is not the same as the founder and owner. I have to live and breathe VetTriage. Their own passion and dedication will never rival, nor should it rival, my own. Even though I would really like it to.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

We are currently spearheading a movement in veterinary telehealth. This touches on everything from allowing doctors to prescribe medications all the way to redefining how our laws see companion animals. We have a panel of medical professionals on the human side that are willing to go to bat for veterinary telemedicine when the time comes. We are also undergoing lobbying efforts to change these antiquated laws that govern and limit what veterinary telemedicine can do for pet owners and their pets. One and a half million animals are euthanized each year; this should be viewed as a crisis that is long overdue for a viable solution. I believe veterinary telehealth will not only be a key player in changing those numbers, but a jumping-off point for bigger things to come. Welcome to the future.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

http://www.vettriage.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/televeterinarian

YouTube: Dr. Shadi Ireifej

YouTube: VetTriage

Instagram: @vettriage

Instagram: @dr.shadi.ireifej

Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.

Thank you. I would be more than happy to do this again.


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