What is Skype?
Skype is a software program that allows its users to make voice and video calls between computers (including tablets, smartphones with web access) and voice calls from computers to regular telephones that are not connected to the internet, anywhere in the world. Some of their services are free to use while some are available for a fee.
What makes Skype such a valuable asset to medical practice is its videoconferencing tool. Gaining widespread adoption in the healthcare industry, this tool has the potential to transform the process and practice of medicine for physicians as well as patients.
Skype in Healthcare
Practitioners have identified a number of functional areas where Skype can help improve the quality of care by raising the level of accessibility, reach and convenience for both patients and doctors.
While Skype calls and videoconferencing may not serve to replace personal visits and interactions, many physicians are turning to it for pre-appointment screening and post-appointment follow-ups and monitoring. Some doctors use Skype to effectively educate new patients prior to their first consultation to get them familiar and comfortable with typically intimidating medical environments. In remote areas with inadequate medical care facilities, Skype video calling allows patients to connect with their doctors and other medical providers for virtual consultations and evaluations, saving on a good amount of travel and other medical expenses.
Skype is also gaining popularity in helping patients keep in touch with their loved ones in medical facilities like children’s hospitals (Skype works with UCSF Children’s Hospital and UCSF Medical Center), birthing suites and skilled nursing units.
One subspecialty that has greatly benefited from Skype’s video communication is Psychiatry. As America’s baby boomers age (over 50% of the 85+ age group deals with dementia), healthcare costs are positioned to rise. In such a situation, Skype offers an affordable and effective alternative for patients to interact with their doctors and be regularly monitored without having to spend time and money on travelling and office visits. It also enables doctors to access higher healthcare education via Skype-enabled virtual classrooms taught by global healthcare experts.
As Skype strengthens its focus on mobile users, medical professionals are presented with newer opportunities to leverage this trend for improving their practice as well as the relationship they share with their patients.
Getting Skype for your Practice
To make a Skype call, you will need the following:
- Desktop/Laptop/Tablet/Smartphone/Skype-enabled TV
- Internet access
- A microphone and headset
- Optional Web camera (even though most laptops have a built-in web cam, it is advisable that patients purchase a separate, detachable web cam that can be adjusted to focus on specific body parts that need virtual examination)
- Optional Skype Accessories like USB Phones, Bluetooth Headsets, Skype VoIP Adapters can also be used to enhance your Skype experience
Once, you have all the hardware and equipment in place, the next step is to download the program from their website. You can do so here: www.skype.com
After downloading Skype (ensure that you download the version that’s compatible with your particular device), you have to install it on your system.
Both these steps are as easy as signing up for an email and are very well explained on their website.
When you have finished the download and installation, you will log in with your Skype name and Password from your system.
On logging in, you will be able to add your patients to your list of Skype contacts (in case they have added you already, you may accept their request). You can make or receive voice and video calls to/from anyone in your contact list.
If you still have doubts concerning the download and installation, this Slide Share presentation http://www.slideshare.net/hmartyn/skype-4069998 offers a simple Step-by-Step guide through the entire process.
Video Calling On Skype
You can use Skype to offer high quality virtual consultations, pre-appointment screenings, follow-ups and monitoring to your patients. However, for a clear, uninterrupted video call, you will need a fast internet connection, or in the case of smartphones, a mobile data plan or Wi-Fi.
Watch this online tutorial to know exactly how you can make video calls using Skype: http://www.skype.com/intl/en/features/allfeatures/video-call/
Skype Features For Your Practice
- Platforms Supported by Skype
Skype is available on Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iPhone, Symbian platforms. You can also make high quality video calls from Skype-enabled Panasonic, Samsung and Sony TVs as well as Blu-ray™ players from Panasonic and Sony.
- Free to Use Skype Services
Skype offers a number of services that you can use free of charge to connect with patients and other medical providers across the globe. Skype-to-Skype calls, One-to-one video calls, instant messaging and screen sharing are features that you can use for free. For practitioners using Skype for the first time, these features will more than serve your purpose, at least to begin with. Once you get comfortable using the software and are able to identify the features that will fulfill your specific communication needs, you can always upgrade to the paid and premium versions.
- Paid Features
Skype’s paid features include voice calls to regular phones and cell phones anywhere in the world at very low calling rates, SMS, call forwarding, voicemail, group video calling with three or more people in a single video call and live chat support. You can also get your own online Skype number for your patients to call and reach you wherever you are or you can sign up for a Skype To Go number to make low-cost international calls from your mobile or regular landline. These features are competitively priced, depending on the subscription package you opt for.
Skype Security for Healthcare – HIPAA Compliance
Despite Skype’s potential to combat rising healthcare costs, busy patient and physician schedules and healthcare accessibility issues, practitioners seem to be reluctant to adopt Skype in their practice due to the controversy surrounding its security and compliance protocols.
However, Skype’s 256-bit-point-to-point encryption is in agreement with HIPAA’s privacy requirements. It is a secure videophone and any HIPAA requirements that apply to a regular telephone are applicable to Skype. Practitioners, however, must ensure that their systems are well-protected against spammers, bugs and malware as a precautionary and safety measure that holds not just for Skype but for any other web-related activity as well.