Visualising the future of video communications in healthcare

This article is sponsored by Logitech.

Image courtesy of National Cancer Institute

When the pandemic forced organisations to restructure operations, people relied on videoconferencing for collaboration, continued education, and business continuity.

For the healthcare sector, the pandemic provided an impetus to ramp up telehealth services for decongesting clinics and hospitals. Moreover, to keep each other updated on the latest trends and innovations to fight COVID-19, doctors and nurses exchanged ideas through virtual medical conferences and video communication tools.

Video communications are here to stay. So how will video technology change the face of healthcare delivery? And what should healthcare professionals look for when deploying video in their operations?

To answer these questions, Jicara Media gathered healthcare professionals and senior IT experts during the “Video Communications in the Healthcare Industry” roundtable hosted by Logitech.

At Singapore’s Thye Hua Kwan Nursing Home, the use of videoconferencing tools has become a norm, even as governments around the world have loosened pandemic restrictions.

“Between the various teams, they will still use video for discussions, or for meetings. For our residents, we do use it so that the families can connect with their loved ones, given the suspension of visitations caused by the pandemic. So, we do rely quite a fair bit on videoconferencing capabilities to help connect the families to the residents,” said Marcus Lee, Thye Hua Kwan’s Director of Operations.

Meanwhile, several challenges hinder the rapid adoption of video communications at SehatQ, an Indonesia-based healthtech startup.“Our doctors and patients are comfortable enough using the mobile chat app. Maybe it’s because of the circumstances, where not every patient has suitable devices or a good internet connection. With chat, they can repeat and clarify the questions to their doctors,” said Marlon Keintjem, SehatQ Product Lead. However, SehatQ is hoping to leverage video communication solutions in the near future.

“Video and camera have become something that we need to solve. At the moment, the insurance companies saw it as a particular condition for patient verification, because if you go to the hospital directly, of course, it’s you who is using your insurance benefit, whereas on chat, maybe it’s your cousin or somebody else,” Keintjem explained.

“It’s also very hard to capture the continuous diagnosis history, because there are probably multiple persons using the same account. So the challenge is on how we present a good approach using the telemedicine application. We are focusing on the mobile app because a mobile app is easier to implement, and we can better communicate through video using the mobile application rather than via web,” he added.

Video offers multiple benefits

The flexibility of hybrid learning and effective, virtual face-to-face communication for medical operations are among the key benefits of videoconferencing technology in healthcare. Moreover, with the threat of future pandemics remaining ambient, video technology is a critical part of business continuity plans in the healthcare industry.

With recent advancements in video communications, a benefit for healthcare workers is the flexibility to attend training sessions, whether in-person or remotely, shared Peter Ng, Senior Solutions Architect, Video Collaboration at Logitech.

Ng pointed out that hybrid learning is a key use of videoconferencing because staff can’t return to the hospital to update their knowledge due to the pandemic’s movement restrictions.

“Hence with hybrid learning now, some can join in remotely via video call, and some can still be on-site,” he said. “It is equally important to make sure that our healthcare workers — the nurses, the doctors, are well-trained, and are well-equipped with the latest knowledge and the latest updates that are happening around the world,” Ng added.

According to Bryan Lee, Head of Video Collaboration (SEA) for Logitech, healthcare workers rely on video communication tools not only for information about the current pandemic, but also in preparation for future ones. For example, meetings held online through which participants from different parts of the world could gather together and update each other.

“Many of our healthcare customers are also looking at the scenario where when something similar happens in the future, they are ready and prepared for it. They are always looking at what is the next step they are going to do,” he observed.

Truly, video communication tools have become essential components of every medical facility’s business continuity plan, and as the healthcare industry becomes more accustomed to its benefits, there is a high likelihood of increased investments in the said area, Thye Hua Kwan’s Marcus Lee noted.

“What we have learned from the current experience definitely forms the basis for our future operational strategy, meaning whatever technology we have tried and tested to be functional and good, that can support our operations, definitely, those will be maintained and we will build upon it,” he said.

Key factors for choosing a provider

With the various vendors in the market offering the latest in hardware and software, the healthcare sector has by now zeroed in on the most important factors to consider while choosing a video communications technology provider.

Primarily, healthcare industry practitioners find it essential to balance cost with the long-term utility of the solution. The solution should be futuristic and flexible enough to adapt to evolving challenges and needs in the healthcare industry.

There is also a premium on ease of use for staff cutting across functions and the ability to integrate the solution with most other healthcare systems and platforms. Moreover, the solution should enable video accessibility to patients on virtually any device of their choice.

In addition to providing a simple unified user experience to all users, it goes without saying that any videoconferencing solution is fundamentally required to provide top-notch video and audio clarity to enable mass adoption.

“Over here, some of the systems are recommended by the authorities. We do have some flexibility in terms of what we choose, but by and large, for uniformity and consistency, we do follow the recommendations. I think cost is definitely one of the factors we consider as high priority because it relates to obsolescence as well. We need to make sure that we get the best value for money, as well as something that doesn’t become obsolete too soon,” Marcus Lee said.

“Because we are a nursing home, we do have different teams, and we have different profiles of staff. So the usability needs to be considered as well, meaning not just admin staff who have the luxury to study the documentation, to study the menus and so on, but we do need to address and make sure that the operational teams, for example nurses — they are already very busy with their nursing duties. We need to make sure that the technology that we adopt, be it systems or the products — it needs to be as user-friendly as possible,” he added.

For Dr. Ana Jimenez, the Director for Quality at Asian Hospital and Medical Center in the Philippines, ease of use is also a prime consideration, along with the capability to mine data and integrate it with data from across the organisation.

“In terms of telehealth, what I think is important is that the telehealth solution can integrate with our hospital information system in order to pull out the data, as well as the laboratory and diagnostic procedures, which is very important for the practitioners to base their treatments on,” she said.

At a city government in the Philippines, the same factors are also top of mind when choosing a particular set of solutions, noted its ICT department head.

“I would have to get the opinion of our health department, because they would be the ones to assess the system as to its functionalities, its ease of use, and the reports that can be generated from the system. That’s one very important factor when it comes to implementing systems. And of course, definitely the cost, because we really have to sustain the use of this product or equipment in the long term. It would be appreciated if this is something that can be used for a longer period of time,” the ICT head remarked.

Meanwhile, at a state-run hospital in the Philippines, the acquisition of video communication tools are in the pipeline, despite the usual procurement challenges relative to government agencies in the country.

“Different government agencies have different requirements, but all processes are the same. We have to post online with our official gazette, like PhilGEPS the government procurement website, and conduct bidding whenever there is a procurement, for transparency purposes. On our side, we are planning to procure more equipment like webcams, desktop PCs, and additional mobile phones for patients without video capability so that we can easily interact with them. We cater mostly to indigent patients, so most of them don’t have phones enabled with video call facility, so we are the ones who call them,” said the hospital’s IT head.

In the past, videoconferencing solutions were significantly more expensive, and more complex to set up, said Bryan Lee.

“Those traditional videoconference solutions work within their own ecosystems, so everyone had to use the same brands to be able to talk to each other. You cannot have a call with someone outside of the organisation. If you do, there are many complex devices that you need to acquire and that will cost the company a lot. Small companies cannot do that,” he explained.

“The effectiveness of a videoconferencing solution depends on how strongly it mimics real life face-to-face interactions. This means that video and audio clarity are of utmost importance while deploying a videoconferencing solution. Everyone wants to see and hear you clearly,” he added.

According to Bryan Lee, Logitech fixes this complexity, so that virtually all organisations can leverage the power of videoconferencing. “For better interoperability, we integrated our solutions with software and solutions from leading cloud video partners. They are designed to work with virtually any videoconferencing platform. You could be running Microsoft Teams or Zoom in the back end with your own app interface in the front end, but we can still ensure that it will seamlessly work with our hardware platform.

Today, innovation has made videoconferencing easy to deploy and easy to use. For example, there are all-in-one-video bars such as the Logitech Rally Bar and they can be rightsized for different meeting space requirements.

Artificial intelligence (AI) technology is now heavily applied to conference cameras. Recent innovations give meeting users the ability to choose from multiple views, focus on the speaker or the entire group, or even combine both views for a more engaging and immersive meeting experience. It is uncommon to find conference cameras with innovative dual camera systems as well as optical zoom and AI viewfinder that can deliver fluid and cinematic views for medium- to large-sized rooms.

Innovation is also happening in audio. Advancements in audio engineering provide powerful room-filling sound and ensure that all voices are clearly heard. Leveraging AI technology, the system automatically adjusts audio for low and loud voices and suppresses unwanted noise.

Understandably, many people will still prefer consulting face to face with a doctor, but according to the head of IT of a government agency, using videoconferencing for healthcare has benefits for both the government and its clients.

“So maybe this is something that we will be adopting later,” the IT head acknowledged.

What does the future of videoconferencing look like?

As video communication technology continues to evolve, modern solutions promise to add on newer functions relevant to different industries, including healthcare.

“How can we enable the digital front door of a healthcare provider? That means an omnichannel engagement with the patient, or it can even mean a contextual integration of your medical records with your insurance providers, for example,” Logitech’s Ng said.

“I believe AR and VR will come into play in the healthcare industry. For example, by using AR, let’s say the doctor is doing rounds, he can actually overlay the X-ray record, the SIS (Saline Infusion Sonohysterography) scan record, and the patient record in the same screen. I believe that will truly improve the efficiency of the rounds in the hospital,” he concluded.