GP2U goes live with WebRTC video conferencing app

Telehealth provider GP2U has released a new version of its iPhone app with in-built WebRTC functionality, and is also using the technology now to conduct video conferences between GPs, specialists and patients through its website.

WebRTC is a developing telecommunications standard that will allow people to conduct video conferences and transfer images and documents in real time through common internet browsers without the need to download a separate application such as Skype.

GP2U founder James Freeman said the new version of the app allows patients to register, book, pay, video conference and get prescriptions through their iPhones.

The app is available on the App Store, with the Android version due shortly on Google Play.

A simple button has been added to the existing app to take the patient straight to GP2U's virtual waiting room, with connections to the doctor via WebRTC proving faster and more secure than when using Skype.

Dr Freeman said he expected there to be reasonable uptake of people video conferencing through the app on their phones, but most would still use PCs, Android tablets or iPads.

The GP2U website also now includes a WebRTC link in the virtual waiting room, so once a patient has logged in, they only need one click to attend the video conference.

“If I want to see the doctor I go to the waiting room and I wait until the doctor comes to get me,” he said. “With our virtual waiting room patients simply wait the until the doctor pops up on the screen. That's pretty easy to explain. Go to the waiting room and wait for the doctor – you don't need to explain anything much else as it all just works.”

WebRTC currently only works natively with the Chrome or Firefox browsers, but it is also easy enough for users of Internet Explorer as IE will install Chrome's Frame plug-in automatically.

The WebRTC standard is not yet ratified and there is still some wrangling going on – Google, for example, wants to mandate the VP8 codec, while others are still pushing for the more widely used H.264. This was initially rejected as it was a proprietary codec and involved licensing fees, but in October last year its owner, Cisco, announced the codec was being open sourced.

People can still use WebRTC now, although it does require a signalling protocol in order to exchange IP addresses, and STUN (Session Traversal Utilities for NAT) and TURN (Traversal Using Relays around NAT) servers to traverse firewalls.

Dr Freeman's team built a signalling server itself, but has now decided to outsource to a company called TokBox, which is backed by Spanish telecoms giant Telefónica. TokBox runs the OpenTok service and is one of many new start-ups concentrating on WebRTC.

“One of the advantages of WebRTC over Skype is that because we are using a signalling server we're not bouncing from machine to machine trying to work out where you are,” Dr Freeman said. “The bottom line is that it only takes a couple of seconds to connect so it’s much faster than Skype.

“We are continuing with the process of trying to make it as easy as possible for people to video conference. We have really smooth registration processes with patients that you can do on the phone or on the computer, it's easy to understand as you just go to the waiting room, you click one button once to allow the camera, and it will just work.

“One of my contentions about video conferencing is that it’s still too damn complicated, but if you look at the little iPhone app, you just press a button like answering a phone call and away it goes. And then once you've finished you press the hang up button. The volume control is the phone’s native volume control, it’s automatically on speakerphone, so there is almost nothing to go wrong.

“From the user interface point of view what we were shooting for was a video application that works as easily as answering a phone call. One button to answer, one to hang up. Simple, but instead of a voice only call you have video as well.”

Dr Freeman and his team have been building the company up for several years, but this year plan to make a full assault on the market, having appointed Salmat to help with marketing and Red Agency to help with PR. He estimates that GP2U currently does more than 20 per cent of all the Medicare-funded specialist telehealth consults in the country, and is also looking to get into the occupational medicine market.

Last year, GP2U caused a few ripples when it launched Skype2doctor, a paid service that allows patients to video conference directly with the GP. For both GP2U and Skype2doctor, a prescription ordering service is available that allows the GP to fax a script to the patient's pharmacy of choice, allowing them to pick it up at their leisure. Patients can also choose to have their script mailed out to them or home delivered via Terry White Chemists Online service.

The company has signed agreements with pharmacy giants Terry White Chemists and Priceline Pharmacies to help with prescription medication delivery.

“We are really grateful to both Terry White Chemists and Priceline Pharmacies for the support they have given us in this new and emerging market of online doctor consultations,” Dr Freeman said.

“Because the prescriptions are faxed through prior to the patient arriving, on many occasions they walk in to find their medications already waiting for them, so not only are patients saving time both travelling to see a doctor and sitting in a waiting room, they are also getting a very efficient service from both Terry White and Priceline.”

Posted in Australian eHealth

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