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Can Streaming Video Provide a Cure for the Healthcare Crisis?
One trial is using two-way video chat to connect at-risk patients with mental health professionals, and so far the results are encouraging.

It doesn’t sound like it should work, seeing a mental health expert via video, but it does. Telemedicine—the idea that people can use live, two-way video chats to interact with doctors—isn’t new, but the usual take is that it’s used by people in rural locations who don’t have access to a local general physician. One program is pushing the idea in new and surprising directions: UPIC Health is running a trial that uses video to connect at-risk patients with mental health professionals.

Mental health sessions by video? Isn’t there a huge barrier in the coldness of the video screen? Isn’t talking with someone about serious issues hard enough in person?

Actually, says Mary Tucker, CEO of UPIC Health (right), based in Chantilly, Va., online sessions have already proven to have some serious advantages. For one thing, young adults are far more likely to be comfortable with on-screen communication, so telemedicine isn’t automatically a turn-off for them. And while a certain amount of bravery is needed to turn on a webcam and talk to a stranger, that’s often easier than parking in front of a clinic and walking in the front door.

UPIC already offers phone consultations, and the extra dimension of a face-to-face encounter, even if it’s online, has proven to be powerful. It’s in the eyes. People talking face to face can look each other in the eye, and for people suffering through the most traumatic events, that’s powerful.

“Looking into the eyes of an empathic caregiver, for us, was the missing piece in those real-time communications,” Tucker says. “I mean, I would just as soon replace the phone.”

The video system UPIC works with offers one other advantage that few video meeting systems have: Patients can remain anonymous and still meet with the same counselor in later sessions. “That’s pretty powerful stuff,” Tucker says.

Besides testing the video system with patients, UPIC is testing it for in-house communications as well. Employees aren’t nearly as comfortable with it as the patients are, Tucker says.

One Touch Is All it Takes

The video system UPIC is testing is a white label solution created by One Touch Video Chat in Austin, Texas. For One Touch, this is simply a new extension of a product it’s offered for some time. In fact, this is the ninth vertical for the One Touch system, following recruiting and law, among other verticals. The company already offered its system for government and financial clients, as well, so while a medical system needs strong security thanks to HIPPA regulations, both government and finance sec tors have stronger security needs.

“Everybody gets worried about the word HIPPA, but when you actually look into the guidelines for security, financial, because you’re dealing with socials and credit card and things like that, I think it’s a little bit more risky,” says Carrie Chitsey Wells, COO for One Touch (right). “We had to make some changes from a security standpoint on our side. It wasn’t a stretch for us.”

One Touch built its video solution in-house and entirely from scratch. It establishes a live peer-to-peer connection, and works on desktops and portable devices, streaming with WebRTC and native video.

A strength of the One Touch system is that it’s able to route calls to multiple possible caregivers. Behind the scenes, the system connects to a networks of doctors, clinical providers, administrators, or whoever else is taking the calls. The system routes video calls to the next available expert. For mental health issues, especially, it’s important that callers don’t have to wait long. Immediately following a call, the system solicits feedback from both parties. Surveys are configurable by the customer, but in the medical field, they typically ask how the patient’s experience was, would they recommend the experience, and did it eliminate the need for an in-person visit. Wells says the company gets an 80 percent completion rate on these surveys.

One Touch decided to enter the medical field about 12 months ago, but only after getting multiple requests from medical companies that wanted to use the system for its video routing capability.

“Let’s say you’re a hospital and you have multiple locations,” Wells says. “Let’s say you have three hospital campuses and you’ve got doctors in multiple locations or working from their own practice or working at home.” One Touch lets patients go to a hospital website to find a specialist, such as a heart doctor, and scan across all of the hospital’s locations regardless of geography. Practitioners, wherever they happen to be—even at home— can take video calls instantly.

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