WebRTC makes a splash at physiotherapy conference
WebRTC technology was used to beam in two UK-based physiotherapy researchers to the recent Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) conference, fittingly to discuss the use of telehealth for physiotherapy.
WebRTC is a draft web standard for real-time video, audio and data communication between web browsers that is expected to be ratified soon by internet standards bodies. It is being looked at closely for telehealth provision as it is free, easy to use and has the potential for secure file transfer and sharing of images and documents.
During a presentation in a telephysiotherapy session at the conference explaining the methodologies, outcomes and cost-effectiveness of telephone-based coaching used with decision-support software, UK researchers Jill Gamlin and Annette Bishop conducted a three-way video call with session moderator Ross Iles in Melbourne using WebRTC.
The presentation lasted one hour and despite latency of 380 milliseconds, poor bandwidth at one site and wireless internet at the other, the conference call did not experience any problems such as dropped connections or echo.
It was conducted through Google Chrome and only required a normal laptop and internet connection. In a similar way as jpeg and mpeg allows the exchange of pictures and movies, WebRTC enables the exchange of live video communications.
Dr Iles, a lecturer in physiotherapy at Monash University, said the benefits of WebRTC were that you don't require high-speed internet connections or that the person at the other end install software.
“We wanted to demonstrate what the possibilities are, because the aim of the conference was to say, this is the technology that is available, what are we going to have to do differently to make the most of it?” he said.
The UK speakers discussed PhysioDirect, a physiotherapy-led telephone assessment and advice service run by Huntingdonshire Primary Care Trust that serves 350,000 people in Cambridgeshire.
The organisation has set up a computerised system that in effect triages patients and guides the physiotherapist in whether to refer to a hospital or GP, a face-to-face appointment with a physio for assessment or a home exercise regime.
Dr Iles said similar services for physiotherapy in Australia were rare. “There are different telephone-based services around but nothing that has been researched to the extent that PhysioDirect has in terms of being able to provide data and outcomes and cost effectiveness,” he said.
One Australian research project that has been assessed is the University of Queensland's work in telehealth-based rehabilitation. The co-director of UQ's Telerehabilitation Research Unit, Trevor Russell, whom Dr Iles described as a leader of telephysiotherapy in Australia, explained his work on video-based postoperative rehabilitation.
Dr Russell is the creator of the eHAB software solution, a mobile, multi-media video conferencing system that enables telerehabilitation consultations in the home. It is being used for speech therapy and audiology as well as physiotherapy.
Dr Iles said the telephysiotherapy session at the conference was about how physiotherapists could think differently when they were not able to do hands-on treatment. While WebRTC probably wouldn't put an end to personal visits from international speakers, it is one of a range of technologies that can be used to help healthcare professionals to think differently.
“What we aimed to draw out at the conference was how do we think differently when we can't put our hands on [patients],” Dr Iles said. “But with clear communication and instruction, there is research to suggest we can diagnose and treat just as well via video as we can in person.”
The APA conference, held earlier this month, also featured an app for attendees through which they could access the program and speaker bios and send emails.
Posted in Allied Health