Skype is a video platform that uses propriety IP technology to stream video communications; it has profound success as a tool for both social and commercial interaction. The platform was bought in 2011 for $8.5 billion from Microsoft with 600 million recorded users. Skype technology is becoming increasingly predominant in helping business more effectively operate, reducing costs in communications and increasing the ability of professionals to make informed decisions quickly. For the past three years Skype has tapped into telehealth, collaborating with Cisco video-conference systems to form new channels of access for patient doctor relationships.
The virtual clinic is a blessing for some patients which is evidenced from Skype’s sponsorship of the mHealth summit in 2010. Mental health patients are a group which have benefited most from video-conference technology as leaving their home can often be challenging. Skype has provided them with a means to consult with a doctor in the comfort of their own home. This is beneficial for doctors as they able to see more patients through Skype which provides a faster turnaround and a reduction in waiting times. The UK’s department of health also recently spoke out in favour of Skype after NHS Pilot programmes revealed an 11 per cent decrease in missed appointments and a favourable reporting from patients on the quality of care provided.
A decrease in waiting and a reduction in missed appointments should be celebrated as a triumph for technology and health care but some may question the drawbacks medical consultations by video provide. GP’s often diagnose patients from unspoken communications like body language which can only be identified from an intimate consultation and prevents accusations of medical negligence. If a diagnosis is not made first time around then Skype may in fact be providing an extended waiting line to patients.
Despite this concern NHS bosses and UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt believe a ‘digital first’ policy will be able to save £3 billion making the virtual clinic a permanent factor in healthcare. Whilst Skype may predominantly be used for consultations other digital technologies may be rolled out too. I-Pads could serve as an interface for patients seeking appointments on the move and doctors could use mobile applications to access health records and message negative test results to patients, preventing the need for follow up appointments.
The department of health called has called on the NHS to enact a ‘digital first’ policy which commits into action the policy idea of the 2012 digital NHS report. If the following initiatives are enabled funding of up to £3 billion may be released.
- Appointments booked online.
- Primary Care pre - assessments.
- Pre-Op screening online.
- Post-surgical remote follow up.
- Remove follow up from secondary care.
- Remote test results delivery.
- Secondary care letters.
- Mobiles in community nursing.
Digital first outlines how these methods can be implemented without affecting the quality of hospital care available, relying on Skype as the primary facilitator of consultations. The largest drawback to implementing the proposals comes from individuals who do not have universal access to the internet therefore a digital NHS may favour the upper and middle class, creating a deeply divisive two tier policy both socially and politically. Skype’s ideological foundation believes removing barrier of communication can change the world and despite the concerns surrounding accessibility, is likely to revolutionise the health service for the better.