Many questions surround Microsoft’s $8.5 billion acquisition of Skype this week. What does new ownership of Skype mean for health care practitioners? I have 3 possibilities to offer you:
- Any $8.5 billion investment has meaning for the industry it serves. Microsoft’s investment in this videoconferencing company is a good predictor for the future of video. Why now? It has been clear for some time that momentum is shifting from the desktop computer to smart phones and tablets. The shift make sense. Consumers are interested in convenience, and nothing is more convenient than a smart phone in a hip pocket or Tablet PC in a back pack / briefcase. This trend is likely to continue, and most phones will be upgraded to smartphones within a few short years.
Already, we can see that worldwide, many more people own mobile phones than desktop computers. In fact, 80% of the world’s population owns a mobile phone, but only about 33% have Internet access.
Why is video so popular? Most people prefer to have the option of using all their senses to communicate something important. Microsoft’s purchase of Skype gives it easy, albeit expensive entrée into these emerging, more convenient and more natural platforms in a way that will help it maintain its leadership. For us, Microsoft’s purchase means we are likely to see the proliferation of online video-based health care, and that our patients are likely to use smartphones and tablet PCs to be viewing us. (We on the other hand, may still choose desktop units to minimize fatigue and improve visibility, but will most likely opt for the convenience of a smartphone or tablet PC at least occasionally.)
- Given Microsoft’s current investment in advertising with the Windows platform and BING search engine, we’re likely to see advertising campaigns move into Skype itself. That means that if you are chatting with a patient and still want to use a free version of Skype, you may be accompanied by a variety of advertisements strategically inserted by Microsoft.
- While business has largely stayed away from Skype due to its reports of security leaks and unreliability, that is likely to change. Large players such as Polycom and Cisco’s Tandberg video teleconferencing platforms (VTC) have dominated the business and health care worlds. Microsoft is likely to take Skype’s “video chat” platform to the business enterprise, rather than keeping it to the consumer world where it has been the leader to date. In other words, we’re likely to see Skype become a more legitimate, secure, reliable platform that gets adopted by business, and dare we say, health care.
These predicted developments are likely to take some time, but they are promising for those of us interested in telepractice. Microsoft’s involvement in bringing videoconferencing to not only the PC but smart phones and Tablet PCs is significant. As with most other computer products and services, the more widespread the adoption, the higher the quality, and lower the price.
Meanwhile, if you or your colleagues are interested in using Skype, our TeleMental Health Institute offers a series of low-cost recordings of past webinars related to HIPAA and Skype. These recordings are an easy way to be brought up to speed on what’s going on as well as a number of viable alternatives to using Skype for telepractice of all types. See the complete listing here.