Video conferencing technology has changed the way people look at communication. It’s not enough to simply hear the voice of a loved one around the world; in today’s high tech world people expect a clear image to accompany that voice. But video conferencing is not just for fun, as evidenced by the changing face of business and education with high tech video conferencing capabilities. Here’s a roundup of three of the most recent applications of video conferencing and how they can affect your life in the near future.

Two Way Communication at ATMs

After several decades of use, many ATMs in the United States and abroad are about to get a techno-facelift. Utilizing video conferencing, customers will be able to speak to a live teller at a remote location, enabling more services than a standard ATM will allow. With video conferencing, customers can handle more sophisticated banking needs, such as making changes to their accounts or arranging a loan. A built-in security option can also recognize the face or fingerprint of a customer, precluding the need for a bank card or other form of ID.

NCR, the world’s biggest ATM provider, recently unveiled the new multi-function NCR SelfServ 32 ATM, giving users the option of an interactive teller interface. NCR says the technology will enable areas without brick and mortar branches to be served by centrally located tellers at a remote location. These new ATMs also offer bill pay, mobile phone refills and mini statements.

The option of increasing multi-function ATMs instead of putting up new buildings can greatly reduce the carbon footprint of major banks. Many of these banks already have 24-hour call centers; video conferencing at ATMs simply takes that convenience to a new level for customers.

Critics of the new ATMs wonder if the new services are really necessary, pointing out that expanded options at ATMs may simply transfer long lines from inside the bank to sidewalks. But for those living in rural neighborhoods with few bank branches, or when long work hours conflict with short branch hours, the new ATMs offer major convenience.

Distance Trials

For centuries, courtroom trials took place in one room, with judges, lawyers, defendants and witnesses battling it out as the audience watched tensions rise. But with the rising cost of travel, a shortage of lawyers in underdeveloped areas, and the security risk and expense of transporting prisoners to court, something might need to change. Video conferencing meets the law requirement of visual communication in justice, saves time and resources, and may just become the norm for courtrooms of the future.

Courtroom Connect, headquartered in Atlanta and with offices in New York and California, puts a major focus of their business on remote participation in legal events. This service brings attorneys and other professionals live access to depositions, trials and hearings to save time and expenses and offer counseling services to people in areas where lawyers are hard to find.

Cisco’s Tandberg also offers video conferencing for judicial and legal situations, stating that utilizing these services helps to expedite cases, improve visits between inmates and their families, maximize prison resources and reduce security risks related to inmate movement.

The Honorable Judge Gary L. Day of Montana writes in an article on video conferencing in the courtroom, “In a perfect world, one with enough money available for all who need legal representation to afford it, I would prefer all parties, witnesses and attorney to be physically present in my courtroom. However, given the realities of funding for legal services corporations, pro bono difficulties and the demographic realities facing residents [in rural areas], video conferencing provides the best method of improving access to justice since the invention of the telephone.”

Life Saving Medical Chats

Several months ago, ten-year old Savanna Addis of Western Australia fell from a chair, struck her head, and began hemorrhaging dangerously. According to a story in The West Australian, she was rushed to Kununurra District Hospital, where doctors made the split-second decision to contact pediatric neurosurgeon Sharon Lee in Perth via live conference. Lee directed the delicate surgery from 1,500 miles away and helped to save the little girl’s life. The surgeon explained that a half hour delay would have been fatal, as the high pressure was beginning to affect Addis’ brain function.

Dealing with matters of life and death is without question the best use of video conferencing. As the technology improves and becomes cheaper to implement, the use of video conferencing in telemedicine is spreading rapidly and will soon be available to many Americans from the comfort of their own home.

Dr. Miles Ellenby, head of the Oregon Health and Services University’s telemedicine program refers to it as “Skype on steroids.” Ellenby’s program and others like it enable caregivers, family and doctors to monitor a patient’s care from a remote location around the clock. Video chats are an integral part of this care, bringing patients face-to-face with doctors and other specialists.

Telepsychiatry and holistic disease management are two of the newest uses of video conferencing in medicine, providing care to geriatric patients, people in rural areas, military personnel and other groups that have monetary or geographic limitations.

Currently, 77 percent of the population has access to internet, but with Obama’s push for expanded rural broadband, that number could jump to close to 100 percent and make telemedicine a viable option for people anywhere in the country.

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