WebRTC and the 7 deadly sins of Healthcare Startups

Medical Video Conference

Startup guru Steve Blank recently published a guest post on his blog about healthcare startups, and the 7 deadly sins that they often fall victim to.

In this post, Todd Dunn makes some excellent points about the challenges facing innovators in healthcare.  Identifying who has purchasing power, who can make decisions, understanding the long sales cycles of medical professionals … these are serious challenges to any startup.

But as technology advances, and standards like WebRTC come along that combine video chat and file transfer with strong security and encryption, new possibilities are opening that make healthcare startups a little easier.  I would like to address a couple Dunn’s “deadly sins of healthcare startups” which WebRTC can help with:

Sin 1: Healthcare startups assume hospitals will let them host patient data in “their portal.”

Dunn is making the point that many healthcare startups tackle privacy and data concerns by building what he calls “Yet Another Portal (YAP).”  YAP engineers assume that it’s too hard to deal with integration and security risks of working with existing providers, databases, or open source solutions.  Instead, it’s better to build Yet Another Portal from the ground up, so that at least you have total control over the security practices around patient data.  Hospitals are correctly suspicious of yet another place to store patient data.  And the startups employing YAP strategies also face long development cycles while they have the security of their systems validated and given regulator approval.

Instead, WebRTC allows us to throw this formula on it’s head.


WebRTC architectural diagram showing the Peer-to-Peer nature of WebRTC video chats

A typical WebRTC architecture showing how two people can exchange video, audio, and data in a secure Peer-to-Peer fashion. The data never needs to be stored on an intermediary server.

In the diagram above, we see two peers connecting over a WebRTC Peer-to-Peer connection.  They have to do some basic “signaling” to connect to each other, but once they do that, they have an encrypted and secure Peer-to-Peer connection directly between their browsers.  Without any server in the middle, they can exchange video, audio, and data directly with each other.

This is revolutionary, because it means we don’t have to worry about storing the data or media on an intermediary server that our startup hosts.  There’s nothing to validate, and there’s nothing for someone to hack, because the data never sits at rest on a 3rd party server.  The patient shares their data directly with the doctor and no one else.

Sin 2: Startups assume that clinicians will be willing to access yet another portal for their data.

In this deadly sin, Dunn points out that asking clinicians to log into Yet Another Portal (YAP) is disruptive to their normal workflow.  This could make their lives worse by introducing your innovative solution, instead of easier.

WebRTC offers something appealing here too.  Instead of building a new application that clinicians have to learn how to use, what if we could build video chat and file sharing into an application that they are already using?  In the WebRTC world, we refer to this as “in context communications.”  The clinician doesn’t have to open Skype or some other tool and then share their screen, instead we could build video chat into applications they already use and keep the communications in-context, where the clinician already is.

In Context Communications is when you combine video chat capabilities with the data being discussed by the participants, within the same tool

In Context Communications is when you combine video chat capabilities with the data being discussed by the participants, within the same tool

There are 5 other deadly sins for healthcare startups in Dunn’s post.  I’m afraid WebRTC may not help you much with those.  Regulation, security, purchasing power, and many other obstacles lie in the path of your startup.  But as you consider the technical solutions to improve the lives of healthcare providers and their patients, keep in mind that the same old technical architectures are not the only option.

  • “Yet Another Portal” is not the only way to handle security of medical data.
  •  The Peer-to-Peer (P2P) nature of WebRTC allows us to consider completely different technical solutions which are inherently secure, encrypted, and easier to build then yet another patient portal.



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