Monday, May 16, 2011

#Skype + Microsoft - What it might mean for Telehealth

Faisal Qureshi (@Faisal_Q) posted a question to me on Twitter after I re-posted a Techcrunch article on Microsoft and Apple heading for a Face-off.

Faisal's question was "Will it disrupt Telehealth?"

My view on the TechCrunch post is that the real battle is with Google. Facetime is not currently a player in telephony, chat and video calling. Google is.


Let's take a look at that question.

In the past year I have seen a growing interest in using video calling technology amongst payers and providers. It is seen as a way to support the team sport of Health Care. My reservations have been that IT organizations have promoted the use of the same IT-supported Unified Communications infrastructure that they use inside their firewalls. The problem with this is that it is a radically different world out there. The proliferation of Smartphones and tablets means that interoperability is critical. 

If there is one thing that the Skype deal can bring to the table for Microsoft it is Voice and Video Calling that is NOT tied to a particular Operating System. Yes I know that Microsoft Messenger is available for the Mac but outside the Windows world other platforms have been treated as second class citizens. Just compare the capabilities of a Microsoft Live Meeting on a Mac or iPad against the capabilities delivered by services such as WebEx.

If we see Skype integrated with screen sharing and video calling, without feature crippling non-windows platforms then there is hope. 

If we want voice and video calls to take off they have to work regardless of the end points involved. 

But how does this apply to Telehealth?

Two things could happen.

1. Microsoft integrates Skype in to enterprise products like Amalga and even HealthVault.

2. Apple fixes Facetime on iOS to allow calls over 3G (Apple really needs to do this. Facetime needs to just work). Apple releases Facetime for Windows and Android. Yes - that seems a little far fetched, but if Apple wants to be a player in the video calling market then they need to spread Facetime far beyond their MAC OS and iOS realms.  

I would like to see Apple release Facetime for Windows, just like they did with iTunes. It could help sell more iPhones and iPads. I would also like to see them release their Facetime code as open source. This would allow developers to create Linux and Android versions that could interoperate. 

As things stand Facetime does not fit the Apple "It just works" ethos. You have to be on a Wi-Fi network. You have to know your calling party has an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad2, or has installed Facetime on their Mac. There is no Chat feature. I am surprised that Facetime hasn't been integrated in to iChat. 

Ubiquity is the platform for disruption

Ubiquity is the platform for disruption.  But Ubiquity does not mean 100% adoption. Look at the power of Twitter and Facebook. They do not have 100% adoption but the impact they have is enormous. 

As I recently tweeted about Susannah Fox's Pew Internet Study - "The Social Life of Health Information, 2011" When you are reaching 1 in 5 Americans then you can be considered "mainstream."  We need Video calling to reach the same level of penetration. We also need it to "Just work."

When that happens, Innovators in Health Care will seize these tools to create new and more efficient and effective solutions to solve health challenges. You are already seeing this happen with trail blazers like AmericanWell.

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