Blue Jeans Q&A: The future of video conferencing

Recent headlines have been filled with the fact that the University Hospital of North Staffordshire (UHNS) has become the first hospital in Europe to allow doctors to consult with their patients via Skype. What are the benefits of using video conferencing in healthcare?

UHNS' announcement marks an important and positive shift in the digital healthcare market. Video consulting technology has been around for years so it's great to see an important medical organisation take the first steps to capitalising on this technology.

The benefits of using video over audio are huge. The advent of numerous consumer applications such as Skype, Google Hangouts, FaceTime and Viber have cemented the normality of video within our personal lives. As such it's no surprise organisations such as the NHS are now adopting this trend as well.

Video consulting in the healthcare industry will not only ease up demand on consultant's time but will also have a positive impact on the economy. Video technology will mean patients do not need to take time off to work to contact their doctor as they can do it all from the office. This ultimately frees up pressure on hospitals and facilitates increased productivity in the workplace.

Typical use cases for video consulting could include instances of final medical scans being signed off or connecting patients in remote areas with a doctor in emergency situations. Finally, video conferencing can also enable knowledge sharing and collaboration as doctors are able to watch live seminars or even diagnoses from anywhere in the world, creating a foundation for knowledge sharing and telehealth.

How has video conferencing changed work practices in recent years, and what further changes do you anticipate in the next five years?

Video conferencing has facilitated a shift in working patterns and truly enabled remote working. For employers and employees, the introduction of new collaboration and mobile technologies means the days of a strict 9-5 confined to the office are over as they are now able to work from almost anywhere on any device.

The trend is strong in the UK with over 20 per cent of the working population currently taking up remote working. This will only intensify over the coming years as more companies embrace the benefits that come from allowing employees to work away from the office. In the future it's likely every town will have a remote working centre where workers from different companies can group together as they work from anywhere. Such practice is already becoming commonplace in Britain's tech hubs such as Silicon Roundabout in London.

As it continues to become more trusted, video conferencing will extend to more industries where it hasn't had such a strong presence, the financial services industry for example. Employees will be further empowered to engage with customers on a more intimate level while accomplishing tasks more quickly and efficiently. In addition, video conferencing has been shown to help multi-location teams work more effectively together across long distances and borders.

What are some of the challenges that doctors and patients may face when trying to adopt this Skype-based treatment?

The initial barrier to adoption will be making users comfortable with the idea of using video consultation. Healthcare professionals will need to take steps to assure patients they will receive the same level of treatment. However, a more prominent issue will be the problems surrounding the limited compatibility of Skype as a conferencing solution.

Whilst Skype can be accessed on tablets, desktops and mobiles, it requires the patient to download the app, create a login and be comfortable with how to use it. It also requires the party on the other side to have a Skype connection to be able to accept the call. This incompatibility with other conferencing solutions such as Cisco, Polycom and the browser limits the availability and ubiquity of the service. There's also the issue of privacy – questions will ultimately arise as to whether it is professional for a doctor or nurse remaining on a patients 'buddy list'.

What other solutions are open to solve the problem?

In the past video conferencing was only made possible through direct links between the same conferencing system e.g. Cisco or Polycom. These hardware based solutions require heavy investment and support from IT managers as users often struggle to get to grips with them. After making this investment, organisations might then be confined to only communicating with other users on the same system or other specific systems. Imagine having to know what phone your friend was using to be able to call them? Furthermore, hardly any patients would have access to a traditional video room system.

What we are now seeing in the video conferencing market is the emergence of cloud-based interoperable video conferencing solutions. These solutions allow users to bridge calls between any video-enabled devices without having to worry about hardware or software compatibility.

Cloud-based video conferencing has grown explosively over the past few years. Blue Jeans usage has risen 500% in the last twelve months alone. These solutions offer increased flexibility to users as they're able to connect via hardware based room systems or more accessible consumer platforms such as web browsers. The ubiquity of such solutions means there is no need to download an app and create a login, as you would have to do with Skype. Instead, users can simply connect to the conference holder's virtual 'meeting room' by entering an access code into their browser. This platform extends the potential adoption much wider than confining use to solely Skype, an app which patients may not have access to or be uncomfortable downloading.

We've heard recent stories of GCHQ spying on Yahoo video calls – do you think patients will be concerned about their privacy and security when they're often talking about vulnerable and intimate issues on Skype?

When it comes to technology, security has and will continue to be a hot topic. In light of recent, high profile news stories, consumers are becoming even more aware of how secure their data and personal information is.

Unlike physical conference set ups, cloud based solutions take a more hands off approach to personal information. No data is actually stored and kept – it's instead encrypted and transmitted. After all, the less people with access to your information the less chance there is of it falling into the wrong hands.

At Blue Jeans we've taken special measures to incorporate security into our offering that runs through secure co-location centres at multiple, global points and over a fully redundant network infrastructure. Security management is also a major aspect of our offering, with comprehensive security controls and features provided at the network, application, and data centre levels.

What other industries could benefit from video conferencing solutions?

Video conferencing has enormous potential in a whole variety of industries, and this is definitely being demonstrated in our growing customer base.

Many online sites are now incorporating video into their customer service policies allowing users to ask questions and resolve queries via video link. This has benefits for the customer as they receive more personal one-to-one communication, and also the company as staff are much less likely to get shouted at when the customer can actually see the person on the other end of the line!

Another area with particular potential is education. There has already been rapid adoption within this sector, in particular with universities, as lecturers are able to deliver sessions via video conferencing. However, this service has typically been offered as a one-way communication solution and we see this evolving in the future to provide the opportunity for two way communication, allowing students to engage with the lecturers.

More broadly, virtually any company in any industry can benefit from the face-to face communication provided from video conferencing and collaboration. Research and customer experience have shown that face-to-face communication and video significantly enhance meeting effectiveness and business relationships compared to audio-only meetings and web conference meetings without video.

Jay O'Connor is the Chief Marketing Officer for Blue Jeans, a video collaboration service that represents over 30 per cent of the global video conferencing market.