Work needed for Microsoft-Skype deal to fulfill its healthcare potential

Depending on the source, it seems that Microsoft's $8.5 billion acquisition of Skype last week either was a bad deal or a monumentally catastrophic one, although there are some out there who believe that it eventually could bear some fruit. How all of this will play out in the healthcare realm should prove interesting.

Barbara Duck--aka, The Medical Quack--pokes fun at the deal from a healthcare perspective, joking that it will enable "redneck telehealth" that lacks HIPAA compliance. Her observation isn't without merit, given that Skype's overall reliability and privacy have been in question for some time. 

Azita Arvani, founder and principal at mobile and wireless consulting practice the Arvani Group, had similar questions about how the pairing would fare from a medical standpoint. 

"For privacy and regulatory reasons [and in terms of HIPAA compliance], Skype generally is not focused on connecting healthcare providers with patients," Arvani said in an email correspondence with FierceMobileHealthcare. "There might also be some issues with quality of experience that would make it hard for physicians and nurses to diagnose and treat a patient." blogger Dr. Marlene Maheu shared a rosier outlook. "[W]e're likely to see Skype become a more legitimate, secure, reliable platform that gets adopted by business, and dare we say, healthcare," Maheu writes.

"While business has largely stayed away from Skype due to its reports of security leaks and unreliability, that is likely to change," she explains. "Large players such as Polycom and Cisco's Tandberg videoconferencing platforms have dominated the business world. Microsoft is likely to take Skype to the business enterprise, rather than keeping it to the consumer world where it has been the leader to date." 

David Doherty, of 3G Doctor, also expressed optimism about the potential the deal holds. Skype's offering could ensure that Microsoft's smartphone operating system remains competitive with the likes of Android (with GTalk) and Apple (with FaceTime), he said in an email correspondence with FierceMobileHealthcare.

"[Many of the deal's detractors] don't appreciate the value of Skype's video brand and just see it as a voice over Internet protocol [VoIP] play," he said. "[They] underestimate what it would cost a corporation like Microsoft to build up the mindshare that Skype has in the video market. From their experience building Bing, Microsoft will be well aware of the real costs and risks involved if they tried to build a competitor, so I'm not surprised they are prepared to just put their cash to work straight away."

My opinion? I'm still on the fence. Sure more physicians than ever are using video conferencing technology in their practices; and yes, Skype already has partnered with one healthcare entity in the U.S. (the University of California, San Francisco). But the latter alliance is based solely on patients connecting with loved ones, rather than their physicians. And, as MobiHealthNews' Brian Dolan pointed out at the tail end of an interview with Skype Director of Marketing and Operations for the Mobile Business Unit Linda Summers last July, the company has had reservations about entering the healthcare space because of HIPAA (a tidbit sure to make a few potential customers think twice). 

Still, if Microsoft can shine up some of the more unpolished aspects of Skype, the potential to provide better quality care to more people is enormous. - Dan