3 ways WebRTC can help rural docs

Browser-based video chat technology could be boon for telemedicine delivery
By Jeff Rowe
04:00 PM

Given the pace of change in today's hyper-connected world, it takes little time for a new technology to become taken for granted.

Take Skype, for example. Whereas not so long ago the idea of carrying on even casual conversations via your computer would have seemed exotic, now the idea hardly raises an eyebrow.

But that doesn't mean there's not room for improvement. According to Jim Machi, vice president of product management for Dialogic, his company's web real-time communications (WebRTC) technology takes Skype-like capabilities and makes them even more user friendly.

WebRTC is an application programming interface drafted by the World Wide Web Consortium, the online standards organization, to enable plugin-free, HTML5-based voice calling and video chat

While technologies such as Skype aren't peer-to-peer – meaning, a computer won't be able to support them without the help of third-party technologies – WebRTC-enabled browsers, by contrast, mean "the browser has everything that it needs," said Machi.

Moving forward, he added, anything that has a browser – a desktop, a tablet or a smartphone – will be able to support WebRTC.

While the ease and convenience of WebRTC is likely to benefit a range of customers, Machi said rural healthcare providers could be particularly pleased with the new technology, for several reasons.

1. It eliminates need for purchasing special equipment. "It could be as simple as buying a tablet," Machi said. That, of course, would be welcome news for cash-strapped providers who want to add services from a distance but can't afford major investments in equipment.

2. It expands the range of options. Rural providers will have more choices when it comes to capabilities such as phone or video conferencing, sending videos or other records to colleagues, or reaching out to specialists for consultations.

3. It should spur application development and growth. "Dialogic sells an engine to the car, but it's not the whole car," said Machi. He predicts a new platform like WebRTC is bound to lead to the development of "applications that can help healthcare by marrying the internet and telecommunications more easily."

Noting that Google, among others, is beginning to push WebRTC with its Google Chrome browser, a move which will significantly expand its availability, Machi said "all kinds of different applications are coming, because it's easy to program to WebRTC."

In other words, talking via computer, which was already pretty easy, is getting a whole lot simpler for doctors.

[See also: Video conferencing: ready for its close-up]


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