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Skype Changing Healthcare One Appointment at a Time
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December 17, 2015

Skype Changing Healthcare One Appointment at a Time

By Michelle Amodio
TMCnet Contributor

By connecting remote patients with healthcare professionals, Skype (News - Alert) is making healthcare cheaper, more efficient, and more accessible. Healthcare practitioners have been using Skype to meet with patients who otherwise cannot travel easily to a practice, for holding therapy sessions, and for hosting educational seminars. Now Skype is being rolled out as a patient consult medium in a South West London facility for appointments.

According to a press announcement, St. George's Mental Health NHS Trust is relying on Skype for patient consultations that take place in the comfort of a patient’s own home. The pilot program helped decision makers see where the technology could be beneficial; sessions were held not in place of face-to-face appointments, rather in conjunction with them. Patients were given the option to use the technology, and those who participated claimed positive results.

“I feel very passionately about the advantages of Skype for Business consultations for those patients that it is suitable for. Skype for Business consultations give more information than telephone calls as I can see patient’s expressions – which is very important in mental health,” said Dr. Suhana Ahmed, according to a press statement.  “Skype for Business will also help patients who find it difficult to take time off work, or can’t travel to appointments because of health issues that make it difficult for them to make the journey.”

Here in the U.S., many practitioners are interested in knowing whether popular options are compatible with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requirements. Skype, whose basic features are free and easy to use, is one option of interest to practicing psychologists.

HIPAA does not specify the kinds of technologies that covered entities should use for creating, receiving, storing or transmitting electronic patient health information Under the HIPAA Security Rule, covered entities must conduct individual risk assessments about the technologies (hardware, software, etc.) they use that store or transmit ePHI.

For the doctors and patients of St. George’s Mental Health NHS, all consultations were held on trusted devices.

The Health Information and Trust Alliance and other organizations generally recommend against the use of Skype and similar platforms for communications involving health information. All of this does not mean that a therapist or other professional should not use Skype to communicate to patients—only that they be aware of the increased risk.

There are cases where Skype can offer more convenient access for patients, potentially reduce waiting times and provide a useful tool for initial consultations. As technology adoption develops, inevitably we will reach a time when using Skype in healthcare will become the norm.

Edited by Kyle Piscioniere

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