In Consultation With Dr. Simon Platt: talking about his new role at Hallmarq, the future of advanced imaging and his passion for teaching the profession

Vet Report had the pleasure of sitting down with Dr. Simon Platt, who has recently been appointed as the Small Animal Medical Director at Hallmarq Veterinary Imaging. We were able to discuss his career, his thoughts on the veterinary profession and the future of imaging.

Dr Platt is well known for his expertise in small animal neurology and has worked internationally within the veterinary profession. He graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1992 before completing a neurology internship in Canada and a residency at the University of Florida. He has also worked in first opinion and referral practice in the UK. Alongside those feats he has authored more than 200 journal articles and 50 book chapters, is co-editor of the BSAVA Manual of Canine and Feline Neurology, Past-President of the ACVIM Neurology Speciality and Founder member of the South Eastern Veterinary Neurology group in the USA. He is also currently Editor-in-Chief of the NAVC journal Today’s Veterinary Practice and was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in 2018.

Interview by Alexia Yiannouli

Can you tell us about your background and career leading up to your new role as Medical Director at Hallmarq?

I’ve moved around a lot during my career and each role has been the right position for me at the time. My passions have revolved mainly around teaching and research. I’ve always wanted a hands-on role and so after graduating I went and did a neurology internship in Canada before going back to the UK to do some general practice. I had a drive to pursue neurology so I went and did a residency in Florida. After a couple of years of solidifying that training in Georgia I went back to the UK again and worked at the Animal Health Trust. At that time they were the first practice to have a high-field MRI, and we were really at the forefront of advanced imaging through learning the ropes with it. I worked there for a while before getting an offer to go back to the US because of my love of teaching, and I’ve been working at the University of Georgia  for 15 years now. A lot of my research has revolved around imaging and trying to understand what diseases look like.

Continuously along this path I’ve tried to understand more about those diseases and break them down into what is practically important, so we can then convey that to the veterinary community. I initially found neurology very difficult to understand. Once it was taught to me in a practical, need to know way, I started to really love it. Because of that, I decided that was the best way for me to disperse the information. Throughout my learning over the last 20  years I’ve thought about how I can break it down in a practical way  and how that can be used in practice. Everything I’ve learnt wasn’t just creation of esoteric information or just a cog in the wheel of multiple layers of research; it had a purpose, and that was always really important to me. If you can’t translate that knowledge to someone in practice who is seeing 10 to 20 cases an hour then it wouldn’t work for me. My role has involved being able to educate on a very practical stance that isn’t intimidating. This led me to the point where I had to decide if I was going to do research full time or if I needed to back away from research and do teaching and hands-on medicine full time, but I really didn’t want to lose that aspect.

I’ve been fortunate to be able to travel around the world and teach. I really love that aspect of it and being able to meet people at the grassroots. I’m always learning and seeing things that I can then use to teach vets from country to country. It has really let me teach and learn in a different way and helped me to understand the challenges of the veterinary front line. Once I realised this I decided to step back from research and continue my teaching and imaging practice while also looking for a new challenge. It was then that a Hallmarq position came up and seemed perfect for me. I already had knowledge of Hallmarq and recognised that I shared their passion for imaging. It was something I wanted to investigate to see if I was a fit for that position.

Why did you want to join Hallmarq and what interested you in the role?

I was aware of Hallmarq for quite a while before I saw the role advertised. In the past I have set up conferences and meetings both online and in person. One was for the South Eastern Veterinary Neurology Group in the US and another was when I was president of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine. I was involved in setting up those meetings and in part, those organisations survived because of sponsorship. Hallmarq was a very consistent sponsor for us, and because of their presence at our meetings, I got to learn quite a lot about them. With my interest in neuro imagining as well as the knowledge I had of the company, the role seemed like a natural fit. That presence and awareness of Hallmarq made me comfortable with them and they stood out as a high quality company that had the right aims when talking about what they want to do with technology and MRI specifically.

Over the last few years I’ve been looking for a new challenge and the next thing for me to get my teeth into. I was looking for something that could incorporate my experience and passions of neuro imaging and teaching and then I came across this role – one that would allow me to get involved with a team I already knew had a strong company behind them and be able to use the things I was comfortable doing to contribute.

What will your role as Small Animal Medical Director involve?

It seems like it will be an evolving role and that’s part of the excitement for me. It will be a challenge to develop the role as I’m starting out in it.  Primarily I will be communicating with vets to translate the technology available at Hallmarq into the nuts and bolts of what vets want to know. My role will be mainly talking to vets in practice about the cases that would benefit from MRI and explaining how it can transform their practice and help their understanding of MRI. When I started out in neurology we didn’t really know anything about advanced imaging. We used to send animals for MRIs at human hospitals. We thought the ‘M’ in MRI stood for magic, and that we’d just miraculously get the answers we wanted. But you have to know how to use it and I learnt that with the help of several great colleagues I’ve had the fortune to work with over the years.

With that experience I’ve found that there are certain cases that will benefit more than others. You can create some amazing images with MRI, but if it’s not going to help the patient then it’s not going to be something of interest. It’s a challenge for me to try and work out how best to translate that. I will be working with the Hallmarq team to try and relay back to them what vets need in practice and really to say ‘this is where we want to  go with the capabilities MRI has over the next five to 10 years.’ 

Within your role as medical director, what sort of things do you hope to do/achieve?

It will be an evolving role. I’d like to grow the role of the vet within the company and try to develop relationships with practitioners. That’s always been a driving force for me as I’ve been teaching around the world and to really develop those relationships. It’s pointless to teach something that’s not helpful, and for it to be helpful you have to understand what the problems are. Getting back to the grassroots is something I’m going to look forward to and is something I hope to achieve in the role. The longer you spend in an academic environment the more risk there is of  losing touch with the daily challenges vets face in practice. I hope to be able to develop relationships with vets to work out and understand what they really want – that will really help me to teach them the benefits of having an MRI in practice and the benefits of using it.

“When I started out in neurology we didn’t really know anything about advanced imaging. We used to send animals for MRIs at human hospitals. used to think that the ‘M’ in MRI stood for magic, and that we’d miraculously get the answers we wanted.”

How do you think imaging technology is improving outcomes in veterinary practice? 

I’ve been lucky enough to be part of the evolution of advanced imaging over the last 20 years and see it develop. It used to be confined to mainly academic environments, and when I started at the Animal Health Trust they had the only MRI available for animals in the UK – and that was 21 years ago. Now it’s becoming more and more available. Improvement of an outcome in veterinary medicine relies on availability. Cost is also really important. As technology is advancing and becoming more widespread, it’s become available to more practitioners. With that, we’re seeing more and more cases going through MRI and so we’re understanding a lot more about diseases. That’s the key – it’s often difficult to know sometimes what we’re looking at. It’s about looking at the clinical evaluation of an animal alongside the advanced imaging and being able to tie the two together to examine the disease, treatment and prognosis of a case. Technology is improving to help us understand more about diseases and treatment which is really important. Initially we used to put everything that came to us in the MRI just so that we could see the picture, but not really understanding what it meant or why we needed to do it. Technology, experience and availability are all advancing, and we’re now able to find out so much more about treatment options and outcomes – that’s where I think it will continue to go. Our focus with advanced technology will be more specific about disease recognition and ultimately prognosis. 

“It’s about breaking down the barriers to make vets feel more confident using advanced imaging and for them to realise that it can really benefit their patients.”

Do you think there are any challenges still being faced with imaging technology in the profession, and if so, how do you think they might be overcome?

I think that one of the challenges is actually mindset. For a long time MRI has been confined to an academic setting. Many general practitioners see it as being for specialists to use rather than for them in first opinion practice. They might also ask the question of what they would do with an MRI if their practice had one, as well as considering if it was something the practice could afford. Changing that mindset will increase confidence levels in the profession, and help vets in practice think that MRI is something feasible that they can use regardless of their level of training. Most vets are comfortable taking a chest radiograph, but they don’t ask themselves why they’re comfortable with doing that even though they are not a cardiologist. It’s an accepted test that we all use and we know that if we can’t work out what we’re seeing we can send it off to someone who can help. That’s the way MRI should end up being. You don’t have to be a neurologist to use those images to help a patient.

This is a challenge we’ll continue to face over the next 10-20 years, hopefully a lot less time than that. It comes with education, by helping vets understand what MRI can and can’t tell you. Vets might sometimes think that it’s wasting their time and their clients’ money, but through this education all vets can use it to help them decide which patients are appropriate candidates for MRI and which aren’t. It’s about breaking down the barriers to make people feel more confident using advanced imaging, and for them to realise that it can really benefit their patients. 

What are you most excited about within the role as Medical Director?

It’s going to be a challenge, which I always get really excited about. It will involve learning more about the technical aspects of imaging because that will be really important to the teaching. One aspect will involve telling vets in practice what MRI can really do, and I’m excited to gain that experience and knowledge by getting into the nitty gritty of technology in a way that I have not been able to do before now. The other side of that is going back to the company and translating what vets in practice are interested  in. I’ve been aware of Hallmarq for some time now, and they really stand out as a company. Their hearts and minds are in the right place through supplying MRI to practices and getting across the message of the benefits to their patients. I really love getting back to connecting with the veterinary profession on grassroots. The last year has been really hard to connect with people except for through a screen. Being able to get out there  and  speak to people using these technologies alongside being a vet at the forefront of Hallmarq’s ambitions in such an evolving role is really exciting.

Find out more information about Hallmarq Veterinary Imaging here.

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