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Online Video House Calls? Tune-in and Watch This Trend Line.

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

man on a video conference callWe see in the news that Dr. Gregory Smith is making “house calls” via Skype. What’s more, he has between 350-500 appointments each year.

A lone report may not signal an explosive trend, but the lesson for healthcare and doctor/physician marketing is that the enabling technology is now mainstream, and medical provider innovators and early adopters are beginning to embrace it for doctor-patient interaction.

Admittedly, (a) there are several significant challenges along this road, (b) we don’t see many stories about patient-doctor video chats or e-consultations (so far), and (c) this communications tool isn’t suitable for all professions, practices and/or organizations. But before you hit the back-button, here’s a bit about what’s going on in this corner of technology.

A good illustration of the pros and cons is the Yahoo News article: Doctor Will Skype You Now: More MDs Use Web for House Calls. Dr. Smith and other providers are leveraging the benefits of video chat. For Dr. Smith, it erases time and distance barriers. The article explains that Dr. Smith—who specializes in treating chronic pain and prescription drug abuse—occasionally can't make it from his office in Los Angeles to his Fresno clinic due to heavy weather.

Likewise, “doctors in some [other] specialties, such as plastic surgery, use the

technology to extend the reach of their practices by having e-consultations with patients in far-away cities.” Sick patients keep their germs at home, and video can be useful when patient mobility is an issue.

For the most part, the adoption barriers are not technical ones. In fact technology—presently available and now emerging—is part of the digital fuel.

As a group, healthcare providers have long been “wired” into online resources, smartphones and health information technology (HIT) in general. Likewise, patients and the general public have increasingly easy access to high speed Internet service, and they use it routinely for medical and health matters. Webcams are a standard component of laptop and desktop devices, and connecting video services, such as Google Chat and Skype, are free (although may not be suitably secure).

The most recent generation of iPhone and the newest tablet devices contain, or will soon feature, face-time cameras that will accelerate popularity of mobile two-way video. This feature is expected in the next version of the wildly popular iPad—perhaps available by mid-year.

While the in-person physician house calls remain a thing of the past, we suspect that e-consultations will become increasingly common for some doctors, medical groups, hospitals and other healthcare organizations. Marketing professionals will want to watch this trend line.

Let us know what you think, and how you are using video calling or e-consultations. What problems have you encountered? There’s more about ethical, effective marketing for your medical group or individual practice on the Healthcare Success website.

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