In many industries, the ability to “virtually communicate” is steadily becoming less of a luxury and more of a must-have. There is no better evidence of this than in the field of healthcare, where high-quality, face-to-face video communication has evolved from something that was prohibitively expensive for the majority of health practitioners – requiring dedicated hardware and networks – to something most smartphone, tablet, and PC users can access easily over the Internet or on 4G networks.

Over the past few years, innovations in video communications technology, and the integration of these innovations into telemedicine applications, have made it possible for patients, even in the most remote areas of the world, to receive timely, critically needed healthcare.

A great example of how the use of high-quality, low-cost video communications and collaboration technology is making a huge difference in a geographically challenged area is in the state of Alaska. With harsh weather and dangerous terrain, there was a dire need to integrate visual communication into the existing telehealth systems run by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC). Since the recent deployment of a new video communications telemedicine system, what health practitioners are able to accomplish has been greatly expanded and strengthened.

Using high-definition video communications, doctors can look inside a child’s ear to see if there is an infection; oversee a resuscitation procedure; or provide consultation during the birth of a baby. Video has become a crucial element for providing quality medical care to a large, geographically challenged region. Before telemedicine, it was difficult to assess the conditions of patients in remote areas. Now, doctors can use video communication to determine whether a patient needs to be transferred to a regional medical facility.

It is not just in Alaska where we are seeing a dramatic rise in the use of telepresence-quality video conferencing technology in the healthcare industry. The most notable examples are video consultations, remote specialty services and physician education and collaboration.  Telemedicine – where a physician can visit a patient remotely via video communications consultation – is now a reality.

One of the largest such efforts is the Ontario Telemedicine Network, with 200,000 consultations carried out remotely each year. American Well is also an example of a telehealth network that offers a complete online healthcare delivery service to patients. Another important advancement brought about by video conferencing is healthcare workflow integration. An example of this is what is being offered by companies such as Philips, who recently introduced a clinical platform based on its eICU® programme, which uses visual communications to enhance the quality of patient care in hospitals.

Thanks to low-cost, easily deployed and increasingly accessible high-quality visual communications, many more patients around the world today are able to access healthcare, however remote their location.

Tech Tuesday is a series profiling the Forum’s Technology Pioneers: companies that have been recognized by the Forum for finding new ways to tackle some of the world’s toughest problems. 

Author: Ofer Shapiro is the co-founder and CEO of Vidyo and a World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer.

Image: A doctor uses his tablet before visiting his patient REUTERS/Nir Elias

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