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Building video consultations- part 1, Discovery

Topics: Building a solution

When Europe went into lockdown and cases in the UK started rising, it seemed clear the UK was going to have to ready itself for COVID-19.

At DrDoctor we realised this was the time to re-align our product development to help as much as we possibly could. As we closed our office in Waterloo and headed home, we knew that the NHS hospitals we work with would be trying to see as many patients as possible safely and remotely, so the best thing we could do was offer video consultations.

We stepped things up a gear, and managed to go from zero to the first live video consultations between doctors and patients in just four weeks – something that we would usually expect to see completed in 12-16 weeks.

Here’s how we did it.

The biggest risk in building fast is not validating that the product you’re building is actually useful. So, we got in touch with some of our existing customers and users to ask what was important to them in a video solution.

What we learned was that the trickiest part of a good video experience seemed to be getting the patient informed and ready for the appointment. We heard about existing solutions being trialled where the booking team might have to make two phone calls and send a couple of emails, just to make sure the patient and doctor would end up in the video room at the right time.

Luckily DrDoctor has a key focus on patient engagement and keeping patients informed about their appointments. We knew that by integrating our video consultations properly with our appointment workflows, we’d have a good answer for this.

The other key learning was that simplicity is key. Patients may be using a video meeting for the first time, so the more help there could be getting started and the less whizzy features to add confusion, the better.

Whilst our Product Manager Maren and Senior Developer Matt were discovering, developers were building.

Developers Alberto and Liam had spiked a basic video app a few months previously, so we already knew of a perfect WebRTC (web real-time communication) solution with a rich API (application programme interface) that would meet our needs; TokBox, which is now called Vonage. We considered an even faster route, using a simple API like Whereby that lets you create meetings hosted by Whereby’s own video app.

On reflection we decided that controlling the experience in the video consultation room was too important to compromise on, so we integrated at the lower level of streams and subscriptions using Vonage.

At the end of the first week we demonstrated working video consultations to the rest of the company. At this stage, they were completely insecure, and only one workflow was in place to give patients advance notice of their appointment, but it was enough to start showing NHS trusts.