Scenario 1: Have you ever had a situation where in the middle of the night, you or someone at home needed urgent medical consultation? You may have the number of a local doctor, but not sure if it is allowed to call. The only option is to give a home remedy/first aid and if that doesn’t work, rush to an emergency care center.
Scenario 2: Have you ever been frustrated about the process to book an appointment with a doctor, reach the hospital, and wait patiently for your turn, only to have the doctor spend less than five minutes and giving you a list of tests to be completed before she can diagnose your problem?
Have you noticed that we no longer have enough doctors who would do a home visit to do a regular or ad hoc checkup of a senior citizen or a child?
These are common scenarios and though we have been hearing about tele-medicine for a while now (almost two decades), it has not really picked up adoption – the primary reason being the affordability. The hardware and software requirements to enable remote video based consulting have been acting as adoption barriers. Also, regulations relating to patient privacy such as HIPAA (most countries have similar laws in place) mandate that any entities (health care providers, insurance companies etc.) involved in managing the patient data should implement certain additional security and audit controls, as part of the tech-enabled service delivery.
As explained in the previous posts, WebRTC is a game changer in these scenarios. All one needs is internet connectivity, a web cam, and a supported browser (Chrome, Firefox and Opera offer native support to WebRTC as of now).
Especially in the US market, each month, we see the roll-out of a new WebRTC based tele-health solution in the market. The business models may be different, but the services being offered can be listed as below:
- Emergency care – where one can quickly contact an available specialist, and get an initial assessment, advice on first aid, and guidance on the next steps.
- Follow-up consultations after a procedure/surgery or periodic consultations for lifestyle conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.
- Ad-hoc queries like getting doubts clarified on a prescription
Tele-health startups in the US are either establishing themselves as market places for individuals to find and connect with doctors or providing the technology to doctors, multi-speciality clinics and hospitals – enabling them to offer live video consultation to their patients.
The scenarios for WebRTC usage in health care are not limited to the above though. WebRTC is perfect for integration with medical devices, M2M (machine to machine) communication, and enabling multiple specialists to communicate among each other in real time to help with a medical situation.
- By using WebRTC with connected medical and diagnostic devices, health care professionals can remotely monitor patients and collect data on vital signs.
- Medical images (X-Rays, CT-Scans, ECGs etc.) can be reviewed remotely by radiologists and shared with experts in other locations for an opinion. Yes, in real time !
- Provide improved access to specialists in remote areas or for rare health conditions.
- WebRTC also includes an API for RTC Data Channel. This would allow supported devices to exchange data (including health data) and thus make it possible for an electronic medical/health record (EMR/EHR) to get updated instantly and also be shared across the world with an expert.
- When a patient is in ICU and would benefit from a quick talk with a friend or family member before or post surgery, WebRTC would enable the conversation without having to violate the hospital’s protocol about ICU and visitors.
What is the state of WebRTC adoption for health care in India?
Recently, I took part in a survey conducted by Bain & Company to assess the market for eHealth consultation services. I am guessing that one of the largest corporate hospital chains in India has commissioned the survey. And so, it is a matter of time before corporate hospitals start offering live video consultation services to patients (current and potential). Obviously, they will not build the technology themselves, and would license it from one of the WebRTC solution providers. Indian WebRTC companies (the handful that have entered the market recently, like Miljul) will do well to focus on this niche and offer a platform to the health care providers (corporate, government, charity-run hospital chains, multi-speciality nursing homes etc.) that can be scaled up quickly.
Apart from the cost efficiency and ease of use, two factors appeal to us at Miljul about health care with WebRTC. Firstly, even in developing countries like India, the need for health care at home is exploding, mainly for senior citizens. Trained para medical workforce is always going to be in short supply. Care providers are going to depend on technology for data capture, analysis, and patient consultation. It makes sense to use WebRTC and provide adult primary care remotely. Only when a visit to a hospital becomes a MUST, should we have our parents and grand parents take the trouble to go there and wait for the appointment.
Secondly, it is not practical to expect super specialists to be available in all remote areas of our country or even within the country for rare diseases. Using WebRTC, we can make this niche expertise available to any one who needs it, at any time, and from any where.
At Miljul, we are excited about these opportunities. Please let us know if you have any comments or suggestions.