Is Skype a viable tool to communicate with patients? A new literature review offers a qualified yes to that question.

After Nigel R. Armfield and his associates at the Centre for Online Health, University of Queensland in Australia analyzed 27 literature articles on Skype, they came to the conclusion that the video communications platform was a feasible tool for telemedicine consults and offered benefits. But they also cautioned that “in the absence of formal studies, the clinical and economic benefits remain unclear.”

Armfield et al point out that in the early days of telemedicine, clinicians relied heavily on expensive hardware based systems to do video conferencing with patients, and patients often were required to go to a hospital in order to make use of the services. Skype has opened up the field to many more patients by allowing them to access physicians from their home computer.

To determine how the free service was being used, the Australian researchers initially looked at 239 articles and narrowed down their analysis to 27 articles, eliminating irrelevant papers that focused primarily on administrative and technical issues. Their analysis revealed that Skype had been used in 8 clinical areas, with clinical education and chronic disease management—especially cardiovascular disease treatment–being covered in about half of the articles.

The investigators found that 26 of the 27 articles “reported results that were supportive of Skype.” Five studies discussed both verbal and non-verbal communication, and all 5 concluded that the video platform offered good communication between patients and clinicians. Seven studies said that Skype was “more economical than face-to-face appointments with savings accruing from avoided travel.” On the downside, several studies mentioned concerns about the security and privacy of Skype, an issue that remains a concern of some security specialists and healthcare attorneys to this day.

Armfield NR, Bradford M, Bradford NK. The clinical use of Skype  for which patients, with which problems and in which settings?–a snapshot review of the literature. Int J Med Inform,  2015, in press.