Vidyo Brings Videoconferencing to Doctors in Remote Parts of Alaska

5/6/13Follow @jpruth

[Updated with comments from CEO Ofer Shapiro. See below] Imagine being a doctor with patients scattered across the rural reaches of Alaska. Booking face-to-face visits might not be that easy—unless you also happen to be a bush pilot—but having access to videoconferencing technology can be away to conduct visual exams regardless of the distance.

Vidyo, in Hackensack, NJ, says it is now supplying technology for real-time video communication and consultations between health care providers and patients across Alaska. The company is providing its platform under a new partnership with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) and the Alaska Federal Health Care Access Network (AFHCAN).

Ashish Gupta, chief marketing officer with Vidyo, says previously the Alaska network did not have real-time, video communications between patients and care providers. The technology now gives practitioners access to information about the patients, and lets them use electronic stethoscopes and other devices remotely during the sessions. “It allows you to see what is going on with the patient right then and there,” he says.

ANTHC is managed by Alaska’s native tribal government and regional organizations, Gupta says, and is adding some 500 more caregivers annually. Vidyo—whose backers include Rho Ventures, Menlo Ventures, and Sevin Rosen Funds—also has offices in Redwood Shores, CA; Andover, MA; and abroad.

With Vidyo’s technology, physicians, specialists, nurses, and other practitioners can host visual consultation sessions with patients who visit video conferencing stations or connect through laptops, tablets, and other mobile devices equipped with cameras. “They needed technology that would be able to scale up and down for real-time, visual collaboration dependent on the devices and the network being used,” Gupta says.

[The next 5 paragraphs were added after initial publication---Eds.]

Vidyo CEO and co-founder Ofer Shapiro says this is just the latest partnership his company has landed in the healthcare market. Vidyo also provides its services to the enterprise sector, he says, and competes with rivals such as Polycom and Sysco. Shapiro says the partnership with ANTHC shows how his technology can break into new territory. “If you can do it in the outskirts of Alaska, you can do it in Iowa, Texas, Norway, Germany, Poland, and so on,” he says.

Vidyo’s platform has also been used by Arizona State University, Shapiro says, to connect with researchers in Panama. The CERN nuclear research facility in Switzerland also uses Vidyo to host video conferences for large audiences, he says.

Videoconferencing, Shapiro says, can be used by medical practitioners who are trying to provide more service, including increasing follow-up calls with patients, even if their resources are limited. “You can reduce the rate of rehospitalization,” he says.

Part of his strategy is to offer his services at lower rates than rivals, making Vidyo’s platform accessible to customers on tight budgets. “It has to be available for about the same price as voice communication, which is something we’ve accomplished,” he says.

The competition, Shapiro says, is focused on making money by selling expensive telepresence equipment to be installed in videoconferencing rooms. “The reality is when you get to a certain price point, a lot of those solutions do not scale,” he says. Vidyo’s platform, he says, offers a lower-cost option.

Some 2,500 health care providers across Alaska try to serve municipalities and villages spread across more than 660,000 square miles of terrain, Gupta says. “They live in a very diverse geographical environment,” he says. In some cases, the vast landscape separates practitioners from patients by 75 to 100 miles. “Often times the medical professional has to take a snowmobile and drive out to take care of the patient or sometimes airlift that patient,” he says.

These virtual visits with medical professionals, he says, can save patients the wear and tear of riding across the frontier to be seen. Through Vidyo’s technology, Gupta says, practitioners can even use remote cameras to check for ear infections. “They can do this from their home or a facility that might connect with specialists in a different part of the state or the world,” he says.

João-Pierre S. Ruth is the editor of Xconomy New York. He can be reached at jpruth@xconomy.com and followed on Twitter @jpruth. Follow @jpruth

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