During his state of the union address last night, President Barack Obama covered a lot of ground, including healthcare reform, of course -- no surprise there. The surprise came when the president mentioned mobile health while discussing the need to increase coverage of high speed wireless networks to 98 percent of all Americans within the next five years:
"This isn't just about — (applause) — this isn't about faster Internet or fewer dropped calls," the president said. "It's about connecting every part of America to the digital age. It's about a rural community in Iowa or Alabama where farmers and small business owners will be able to sell their products all over the world. It's about a firefighter who can download the design of a burning building onto a handheld device; a student who can take classes with a digital textbook; or a patient who can have face-to-face video chats with her doctor."
Health plans and insurance providers are among the first groups to embrace face-to-face video chats between patients and care providers. Last year a report claimed that both Humana and WellPoint were working to include more wireless video chat services for their members to better connect them to nurses.
In November 2009 Verizon mentioned that it was investigating the use of mobile phone based video consultations between physicians and specialists to help diagnose patients, particularly in the tele-stroke field.
Of course, no one beats the mobile video consultations drum louder than 3GDoctor founder David Doherty, who has been evangelizing mobile health and the use of mobile video for patient-physician visits for several years.
A number of payors have also teamed up with American Well for its Online Care service, which connects physicians with patients in online video sessions or on the phone. United Health Group's OptumHealth division uses American Well's technology to power its Now Clinic offering in Minnesota. Blue Cross Blue Shield offers it in Western New York. There are many more.
While American Well's services are largely accessed via PCs, many rural areas' only Internet access is through wireless broadband cellular services.
Mobile video calling -- or making video calls from a mobile phone -- is growing as a trend in its own right, however. Apple launched FaceTime for the iPhone 4 and a number of other video calling startups and incumbents have moved into the space in recent years. This month Skype acquired mobile video calling upstart Qik and other contenders like Damaka and Tango have attracted attention from the media.
As of last October, only 6 percent of American adults have made a video call from their mobile phone, according to Pew Internet Research.
Read the entire state of the union address over at NPR