Telemedicine has been touted for decades as a soon-to-be-available technology. Now a new service from Google may make telemedicine, and other professional services delivered remotely, a practical business proposition.
The service, called Helpouts, is a marketplace based on Google's Hangouts, and it uses Google Wallet for payments. It enables face-to-face video calls between a provider and a customer, using a computer, an iPhone, an iPad or an Android device. The technology giant said Helpouts offers a "new way to connect people who need help with people who can give help, over live video, any time, anywhere."
Google had been testing out the service, but now has made its existence public -- although it is still in invite-only mode as experts are being acquired for when the service does go live. No launch date has been announced.
Currently, services are being categorized as Home & Garden, Computers & Electronics, Health & Counseling, Nutrition & Fitness, Fashion & Beauty, Art & Music, Cooking, and Education.
20 Percent Cut
Health-related services can obviously benefit from such live video delivery, and Google has been using a background screening company called HireRight to make sure that individuals professing to have health-care expertise actually do.
Google also said that it is working with Infinity Contact, Capita Customer Management and VXI "to provide customers with support and services related to Helpouts." Those companies are helping new service providers learn about how to create their first listings.
In order to use Helpouts, participants will need to have a Google+ account, and updates to Google+ profiles will automatically update profiles in Helpouts. If a fee is charged, both provider and customer must have Google Wallet accounts. Google said the Helpouts platform is different from Hangouts because Helpouts handles all the setup and maintenance.
Once a potential listing has been submitted, Google has said it will review the submission, contact the provider through a video call, and then determine whether it will either approve or reject the offering.
Fees are charged by the minute or by the session. Google will take a 20 percent fee from the revenue generated by the experts, although experts can offer their services for free if they so desire, as a kind of loss-leader for other products or services.
If unsatisfied, Helpouts customers can get a full refund. Video calls will be recorded for quality assurance, unless it is a Health & Counseling-related service or if the customer chooses not to. Customers who opt out, however, cannot get a money-back guarantee.
Brad Shimmin, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, pointed out that there have been "a number of pretty successful help-answer, text-based sites," such as Yahoo Answers or Quora, not to mention video-based start-ups like Talktoanexpertonline.com or liveexperts.tv.
He told us the obvious major competitor would be a similar service from Skype that drew upon Microsoft's various services for businesses. Cisco has also been very active in the tele-business space, but at a much higher price point and more complex technical set up.