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Real Time Communications Gains Favor for UC Replacement, Telemedicine

April 16, 2015

There's a lot of discussion this week around how real time communications (RTC) and WebRTC are ready to put the hurt on unified communications (UC) vendors.  As WebRTC implementations gain maturity and mainstream support, the sands are beginning to shift from underneath traditional UC deployments.  Telemedicine usage is also picking up in RTC, moving beyond connected health buzz and into real world implementations.

Up until now, making UC work in a business environment required a balancing act to provide presence, instant messaging, voice and video calling plus PBX and telepresence room solutions by making sure everything more or less worked together between multiple vendors, with media processing thrown in for bonus points if there was a lot of video going on.

WebRTC looks like the big asteroid that will kill the UC dinosaurs.  It provides baseline voice and video interoperability at the browser and app level, at a price point that essentially translates to fractions of a penny per use without the headaches of legacy gear.  Further, the software-only/service of new wave enterprise apps such as Slack means businesses can get more functionality from newer services as well as get the all the functionality of "traditional" UC apps in the next service revision.

Slack already is a darling of enterprise users because it provides real time messaging with archive and search capabilities. The company recently bought a WebRTC shop , Screenhero, and is in the process of integrating voice and video messaging into the Slack Service.

via Shutterstock

WebRTC guru Tsahi Levent-Levi has taken a hard look at how WebRTC and RTC can and are being interwoven into existing application, wondering aloud what will happen to UC tools if project management software directly embeds WebRTC.  Meanwhile, text and messaging service WeChat is eating into voice and E-mail in Asia -- a much different scenario, since WeChat is a consumer service that is being increasingly used within the enterprise. 

UC vendors are faced with a steady erosion of their value as WebRTC and independent messaging services are increasingly embraced by businesses.  It's a frightening scenario because it means less time and money spent in dedicated (and expensive) single or multi-vendor UC setups, which makes those setups increasingly more vulnerable every day that goes by.

The venture community is supporting the WebRTC-is-the-enterprise idea, judging from at least one recent investment.  CafeX closed $21 million in Series B funding last month, with participants including Intel Capital and a USAA subsidiary.  The company is using WebRTC technology to power contextual RTC experiences within enterprise application, with customers including American Express and JurisLink.

Connected health received a big boost last year at GENBAND's Perspectives14 event.  Samsung demonstrated how wearables and WebRTC could create an interactive, personalized experience between doctor and patient.

Kaiser Permanente is using telemedicine to cut wait times for patients and provide virtual visits when people can't get to a physician during regular office hours. The health care organization is using a combination of "traditional" telemedicine for scheduled patients who walk into a facility for review to its "HouseCalls" app, enabling members to connect with a physician via computer or smart phone outside of normal office hours -- without a co-pay -- from home or any other location.

The City of Houston is going a step further, providing its fire department with the ability to do an on-site medical consult between a patient and a doctor at a call center via a Panasonic Toughbook tablet and Cisco telepresence software.  Only 13 percent of 318,000 calls in 2014 were actual fires, with the rest medical-related.  Since Houston firefighters are cross-trained in medical care, they are among the busiest first responders in the city.

One problem city officials face are lower-income residents that dial 911 out of habit to get medical care, even if they don't have an immediate medical problem.  The non-urgent calls tie-up valuable resources and cost taxpayers anywhere from $600 to $1,200 per ER room visit.  By using a tablet for a doctor to provide a virtual visit, non-critical patients can be diverted to an outpatient clinic appointment with a free taxi voucher thrown in, lowering the cost of treatment between $165 to $262.  If successful on a large scale basis, Houston could save up to $2 million per year in lower health care costs.

While Kaiser and Houston aren't currently using a WebRTC-based solution, it is likely they will do so in the future as the telehealth industry moves toward open-standard solutions.  WeCounsel Solutions, based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, announced last month it was adding WebRTC to its B2C application.  A company official described the WebRTC feature as a way to make cloud-based B2C video conferencing "virtually fail-proof," eliminating the need for downloading and updating plug-ins and incompatibility issues based upon device-specific software.  

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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