Video Chatting May Be the Future of Medicine, Just Not Yet

Doctors in the U.S. are more than willing to test out video chatting with their patients, even if very few do so today. Technology is rapidly developing that may help video and mobile devices replace or supplement traditional forms of care like phone calls or in-person visits.

In a survey of 2,016 physicians by American Well, a Boston-based company that sells a video and mobile app service for doctor-to-patient communication, 57 percent say they are willing to try video consultations with patients, compared with 12 percent who say they wouldn’t attempt it. Only 5 percent of the physicians that American Well surveyed currently use video chats to talk with patients, while 88 percent use phone calls and 48 percent e-mail with patients.

There is substantial momentum behind bringing medical-based video chatting to the masses, particularly in the startup world. From New York to San Francisco, companies have been springing up in recent years offering video chatting and other telemedicine services for physicians who seek more efficient—and potentially more lucrative—methods of working with patients. Of those surveyed, 79 percent say they may use video chatting for a more flexible schedule, and 67 percent say they want to use it to earn more income—presumably by seeing more patients.

Telemedicine Survey

San Francisco’s Doctor on Demand raised a $50 million Series B this month for its video-based consultation service. Meanwhile, the University of Washington’s healthcare organization began an online virtual clinic in January that uses telemedicine services from Seattle-based Carena.

On the East Coast, a Hackensack, NJ-based business is tackling patient care in remote parts of the U.S. Vidyo offers real-time video consultations and communications between healthcare providers and patients throughout Alaska.

Physicians have increasingly embraced technology in recent years. But even as more use it, many believe a technology-focused healthcare system is years away. In a survey of 532 doctors performed last year by MedData Group, the physicians saw innovations like mobile apps that allow access to health records and secure texting as the most likely adoptions by the system in the ensuing year. Still, 57 percent of respondents thought adoption of connected-health systems would take longer than five years.

In the American Well survey, which was conducted online in May in partnership with online physician community QuantiaMD, 76 percent of physicians believed dermatology is the specialty for which video consultations would be most valuable, with psychiatry (54 percent) and infectious disease (46 percent) coming in second and third.

Telemedicine Conditions

That dermatology is a good use case rings true for Spruce, a San Francisco-based company with an app that acts as a digital doctor’s office, and is currently focused on diagnosing and treating dermatological conditions. Spruce, which raised a $15 million Series A round in March, does not currently use video conferencing services, though it is considering it. The company is also considering other medical conditions it may be able to target.

David Holley is Xconomy's national correspondent based in Austin, TX. You can reach him at [email protected] Follow @xconholley

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