Equestrians are often familiar with the concept of ultrasound as a tool used by veterinarians to diagnose issues with their horses. As technology grows and expands, ultrasound and other medical imaging devices are also improving to give professionals more access to diagnose and solve problems with horses and even themselves.
Butterfly Network, a revolutionary ultrasound company, is part of that evolution by introducing a new product, that is changing the way veterinarians work, how horse owners interact with their veterinarians, plus it is an educational tool for veterinary students Two well-respected players in equestrian sport, athlete Katie Dinan and veterinarian Dr. Richard Markell, immediately recognized the value of this device and have worked over the past few years to bring the benefits of Butterfly to equestrians sports. With Butterfly iQ Vet formally staking its claim at the American Association of Equine Practitioners Annual Conference in Denver, Colorado; the company is staged to bring the equestrian sport into the next era of technology and medicine.
Founded in 2011 by Dr. Jonathon Rothberg, a scientist, and entrepreneur, who is notable for his earlier work in sequencing of the human genome, Butterfly iQ Vet is an innovative whole-body ultrasound app and probe that’s CE-approved, FDA-cleared, and a total game-changer. Butterfly iQ Vet brings this same technology to veterinarians in both large and small animal. When coupled with a supported device, it enables high quality, mobile ultrasounds anywhere in the world. It is simple enough to be operated by a wide range of professionals but advanced enough for complex diagnostics and can be operated with one hand. It is about the size of an electric shaver and is battery-powered. Maybe the most disruptive difference about the device is that it contains microchips rather than piezoelectric crystals, so it usually won’t break if dropped – perfect for an outdoor equine setting. Rather than the cumbersome process of saving, labeling, uploading and then sharing links to individuals separately, Butterfly images are uploaded to a secure cloud for remote review by a medical professional in nearly real-time and easily shared with patients and horse owners. Remarkably, the Butterfly iQ Vet is affordable with ready to use packages that start at $2,000 plus a $420 annual subscription fee!
You may be wondering why this is all so exciting, but if you are a veterinarian who travels, a veterinarian that is just starting their own practice, a licensed veterinary university that is responsible for the next generation of competent doctors, or a non-profit that works with equines in need in remote places, this product is unquestionably a game-changer. This type of technology makes the possibility for growth and meaningful change endless.
Although the Butterfly iQ was initially developed for use in human medicine, two influential players in equestrian sport serendipitously were able to be involved with the project at its early stages and convinced the startup that when it was only thinking about the people, it was thinking too small. Show Jumper Dinan and former United States Olympic Show Jumping Team Veterinarian, Dr. Markell were both crucial in bringing Butterfly iQ Vet to market.
Dinan, of New York, is one of the most recognizable athletes in American show-jumping. She began riding at 4-years old and her passion for the sport led her family to found StaySail Farm. Now 26-years-old, Dinan has won major Grand Prix’s all over the world including an individual gold medal and team bronze at the 2011 North American Young Rider Championship and has competed in FEI World Cup Finals. She has been honored by her peers with accolades that include the Maxine Beard Show Jumping Rider Award in 2012 and the USET Foundation’s Lionel Guerrand-Hermes Trophy. An even more unique and impressive thing about Dinan is that her accomplishments are not limited to the show ring. She graduated from Harvard University in 2016 with a degree in Human Development and Regenerative Biology.
“Butterfly was in development and had premiered their first product, the iQ, which is for humans in 2017,” explained Dinan. “I knew a little bit about the company because a good friend of mine was working there and I mentioned that ‘we use a ton of ultrasound in horses and I think you should look into getting into veterinary medicine.’”
Butterfly’s entrance into Dinan’s life could not have come at a better time for the young woman who was looking for the last piece in the puzzle to end her transition from student to athlete to professional.
“I rode all through high school and in college and when I graduated in 2016, I was on the science track and working on diabetes research,” Dinan explained. “While most people in my field were going back to school to earn a doctorate degree, I really wanted to focus on my riding because I had spent four years trying to balance both things. The last year or two while I was writing my thesis I burned the candle at both ends and I felt that for myself and my horses and my team, I needed to put the same effort into achieving there. After graduation, I moved to Switzerland, with the exception of coming to the U.S. to show in the indoors in fall and Florida in the winter. In the spring of 2018, I had been out of school for two years and I was searching for a way that I could continue riding at the same level and also find a way to incorporate another interest back into my life and being able to work with Butterfly was a perfect fit at the perfect time.”
The time that she had spent re-immersed into her horses and farm had given her a new found perspective on how incredibly important ultrasound was to veterinary medicine.
“It worked out that Butterfly was looking to expand and I was able to start full time in September of 2018 and dive into research, product development, and bringing the product to market,” she continued. “At that point the job became a lot more than I had anticipated but it was a great fit because it matched so many of my interests – the most important being the love of all animals.”
Dr. Markell, DVM, MVRCS MBA, entered the project similarly and around the same time thanks to his friend and colleague Dr. Cooper Williams. To that point, Dr. Markell was a widely respected veterinarian based in southern California but with an international practice and clientele. One of the areas where Dr. Markell was most notable was in ultrasound and continuing education. During a conversation with his friends and colleagues, Dr. Cooper Williams and Dr. Timothy Ober, Dr. Markell learned about Butterfly and that it was moving along in development.
“My conversation with Cooper and Tim really peaked my interest in Butterfly,” remarked Dr. Markell. “I had recently completed my MBA and was doing consulting work for pharmaceutical and nutrition companies. I reached out to Katie because I thought it was a cool concept and would be a good fit. A week after my initial conversation with Katie, I had a conversation with the leadership team at Butterfly, and a week after that I was on board and it has been the perfect fit.”
Whereas Dinan’s interest in the product comes from a scientific background, Dr. Markell’s passion about the Butterfly lies in its ability to connect people and open doors that were otherwise closed to many.
“At the core of the company is a social mission. From the beginning the value is that Butterfly is going to democratize health care by bringing medical imaging to 4 billion people that are underserved in the world and provide access to advanced health care on a local level,” said Dr. Markell“On the veterinary side, 40% of vets don’t have ultrasound, this device changes that! Now veterinary students can learn anatomy with more texture and contextualization than ever before to really understand what the structure is and how it operates, thus creating better veterinarians.”
Together, Dinan and Dr. Markell are leading the veterinary initiative with product development and product management. Their shared goal is trying to understand what veterinarians really want from a device and how to best serve their needs while internally continuing to develop a product that is uniquely for the veterinary community.
“For me, it has been a real learning experience about how many moving pieces it takes to get a product to market,” said Dinan. “ I was always an athlete, so working with all of the veterinarians has been very meaningful for me. It is cool to take all of these things that I learned in school, use them in collaboration with my veterinarian and move forward.”
“My personal goal is to get a Butterfly iQ Vet ultrasound device for every vet student in the United States,” says Dr. Markell. “That type of access and skills will lead to a dramatic improvement in the lives of so many. 60% of houses have pets — this will help us better care for these loved ones who complete our families and support our livelihoods.”
Times are changing and it is refreshing that the equine industry has people that are committed to seeing our industry change and grow with them. With hundreds of veterinarians being introduced to Butterfly iQ Vet at the AAEP convention, hopefully, clients will start to see the use of this technology in their barns and universities in a meaningful way in 2020. If Dinan and Dr. Markell have anything to say about it, this vision will soon be the norm.