Although I sometimes flatter myself that patients actually look forward to seeing me for their appointments, the reality is that for most, attending doctor appointments can be a bit of a chore.
Medical appointments themselves don’t take that long but the process of getting there often does. There’s the time off work or childcare to consider, finding a hospital car parking space, or the demands of negotiating a journey with the additional demands of the symptoms of a chronic illness. The consolation of a waiting room which allows unlimited access to vintage copies of Hello magazine or Homes and Gardens isn’t always enough…
Thats why I was fascinated to demo a system that might allow patients to experience the benefits of a medical consultation, from the comfort of their own home or workplace.
Facetalk is a new, secure, hi definition video consultation system developed by the Radboud REshape & Innovation Center the Netherlands. The Facetalk tagline is ‘Your Virtual Consultation Room’.
Lucien Engelen, the director of the centre showed me how it worked.
Our ‘appointment’ took place during the evening when I was at home and Lucien (whom I expect works longer hours than most doctors) was still at work. The email invitation I received to the appointment included a link which prompted me to download a piece of software to my iPad (the platform can be viewed on PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone and Android).
Once installed (pausing only briefly to settle an argument between two of my kids and put the rubbish out), I was then ready to ‘attend’.
And there was Lucien. All three of him. In order to show me how easy it was to have a number of people connected simultaneously, Lucien had connected toFacetalk using three devices simultaneously; his PC, iPadmini and iPhone. Lucien, as the “doctor” in the consultation, was able to share his desktop with me show me xray, clinical images or videos (in hi definition). He explained how up to 10 people can attend a meeting simultaneously (eg a patient, attendee of their choice, GP, Hospital doctor physiotherapist etc). A hard feat to pull off in real life in a busy outpatient clinic.
I was able to attend my meeting with Lucien from my office but also – because I was using a tablet device – from my kitchen or even (theoretically, but lets not go there) my downstairs toilet.
Facetalk has already been piloted to facilitate a diagnosis of skin cancer, out patient neurology appointments, paediatric urology consultations, palliative care consultations, TPN prescribing and and cleft palate.
The advantages of Facetalk are, according to Lucien, that it is secure (neither Skype nor Google Hangouts are secure for Healthcare use), doesn’t require any fancy hardware, works on all systems (except Blackberry), and that is does not require Flash (use of Flash video can pose additional security issues – not to mention, viewing problems on Apple mobile devices). Facetalk has also incorporated a workflow solution for healthcare without the additional hassle of security codes and does not require registration at the patients’ end.
It works over a regular home broadband connection and also works over 3G connections (think ‘Youtube’ over 3G).
I think it is likely that Facetalk will also add value for doctors. It will allow us to collaborate with specialists without the need for travel, might reduce the amount of time necessary for a consultation, and potentially reduce the need for office space and secretarial staff where there are less patients are physically present.
I’m decided to offer it to a group of my patients who are interested in using it in place of their regular appointment. I feel its probably going to lend itself better to patients who I know reasonably well, who have conditions where perhaps a thorough physical examination may not be necessary on every visit; eg Ankylosing Spondylitis, stable psoriatic arthritis or fibromyalgia. I’ll let you know how I get on.
Would anyone like to buy some old copies of Hello magazine?