The telemedicine market has seen significant growth over the past few years. In 2019, the telemedicine global market was valued at $45 billion. By 2026, it is expected to be valued at more than $175 billion. This enormous growth is caused by the increasing costs of traditional health care, an increase in digital health users and funding for telemedicine. In 2013, there were around 350 000 telemedicine patients around the world. The number is expected to grow at least 20 times that amount. This means the need for telemedicine applications is also going to increase. Healthcare practitioners are constantly seeking telemedicine apps that will allow them to provide remote medical advice to the growing number of patients. This article will tell you how to develop a telemedicine solution that will lead your business to success.
What is telemedicine?
WHO describes telemedicine as ‘delivery of health care services, where patients and providers are separated by distance’. It is about establishing communication between patients and healthcare providers using advanced communication tools and services. The information exchange is used for the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and injuries, research, evaluation and continuing education of health professionals. In the times of the COVID-19 crisis, telemedicine app development became even more relevant and started transforming healthcare. The main aim of telemedicine is to provide patients with quality, cost-effective, health services wherever they are. It is particularly valuable in remote areas, vulnerable groups and ageing populations.
Telemedicine vs telehealth
Telemedicine is an older term, focused on the clinical application while telehealth is concerned with a broader and more consumer-facing approach. North America has the largest telemedicine market globally. It is expected that the global telehealth market will grow to $35 billion by 2025. The telehealth market includes a variety of products and applications, however, the largest part of the telemedicine market in the U.S. is hardware.
Types of telemedicine applications
Also called synchronous video or real-time telemedicine, live video-conferencing is a live, two-way interaction between a person and a healthcare specialist using audiovisual telecommunications technology. This type of telehealth is often used in treating common illnesses, in order to determine whether a patient should go to urgent care, as well as in mental health cases to provide psychotherapy sessions. While the other types of telemedicine are mostly used to enhance the traditional in-person visits, live video-conferencing can be used instead of a visit to the doctor’s office. It is important to add that consumer video communication tools are not appropriate for telemedicine. Telehealth encounters should be conducted using technology designed for this purpose that is compliant with regulations like HIPAA or GDPR.
Store-and-forward or asynchronous video
It is the transmission of recorded health history like lab reports, imaging studies, videos etc. through an electronic communications system to a healthcare provider. The information is used to treat the patient outside of real-time. It is often used in rural areas between a primary care practitioner or a nurse to consult a specialist in another location. Asynchronous telemedicine is an efficient way for patients, primary care providers and specialists to collaborate in a more secure way than email. It is particularly popular for diagnosis and treatment in medical fields like dermatology, radiology and ophthalmology.
Remote patient monitoring
Remote patient monitoring (RPM) is the collection of personal health and medical data from a patient that is then transferred electronically to a health professional. So-called ‘telemonitoring’ allows healthcare professionals to track a patient’s vital signs and activities remotely. RPM is used to a great extent in senior living in order to prevent falls and monitor vital health statistics of residents as well as for the management of high-risk patients. Remote monitoring helps in the treatment of chronic conditions like diabetes or to track patients who have recently been released from the hospital.
Mobile health or mHealth
The Global Observatory for eHealth (GOe) defined mHealth as ‘medical and public health practice supported by mobile devices, such as mobile phones, patient monitoring devices, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and other wireless devices.'
mHealth uses mobile communication devices like smartphones and tablets together with software applications for those devices in order to support healthcare. The basic difference between mHealth and telehealth is that telehealth refers to all instances of healthcare via the use of modern technology while mHealth refers to the concept of mobile self-care. mHealth is a user-directed health technology that falls into the categories of sports, fitness and wellbeing. This type of application is commonly used and is especially valuable for senior care, education and awareness, disease and epidemic outbreak tracking, remote monitoring and data collection. According to a Booz & Company report, 88% of doctors said they wanted their patients to monitor vital statistics at home and approximately half of the patients said they would be comfortable participating in video consultations with their physicians.
Medical imaging is used to share X-rays, CT scans and other important images from one medical practitioner to another. This allows instant acquisition and analysis of such data despite geographic challenges. A great example of this type of solution is OHIF, where Selleo was responsible for the UI enhancements.
Advantages of telemedicine apps
Using remote healthcare services means more self-employed and experienced doctors can offer their services. Telemedicine allows them to become independent and reach a higher number of people. What is more, with more self-employed doctors the competition on the market rises which means higher quality services at a lower price.
- Time-efficiency - In a conventional hospital, complex health screening can take several weeks taking into consideration doctors’ availability, commute time etc. With telemedicine, patients can book an appointment without leaving their houses. The consultation starts at the most convenient time and since they all start on time, it is easier to book several of them in a row.
- Easier access to healthcare - For patients that live in distant, rural areas telehealth apps are the perfect option. All they need is a cellular network to WiFI. Additionally, people from countries with a lower level of healthcare can get access to professionals from all around the world. Although it is a quite new concept, still in the early phases of development, Hirslanden-a group of private hospitals in Switzerland - supports this kind of remote consultations.
- Time management - For doctors, using telemedicine is a great way to effectively manage their time. Thanks to push notifications and in-app schedule doctors are always on time and never miss any appointments. What is more, administrators can track doctors’ workload and maintain a healthy work-life balance.
- On-demand access to EHR - Electronic Health Records (a digital version of patient’s paper records including medical and treatment histories) are always available for health practitioners. Patients can also keep track of their records and changes in EHR.
What are the technologies used in telemedicine applications?
To build a telemedicine platform you have to be aware of the technologies powering the application. The technology used will have an influence on the features implemented in the product.
Artificial intelligence in telemedicine is used for chatbots. 86% of healthcare companies use some form of AI and by the end of 2020, they will spend around $54 million on AI projects. A simple FAQ chatbot can answer users’ questions about the doctor’s schedule, competency etc. They can also book a consultation. Thanks to chatbots, some of the routine processes can be automated. Partners Healthcare in Boston announced a 10-year contract with GE Healthcare to develop new business models for applying AI to healthcare at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham women’s Hospital’s Center for Clinical Data Science.
Blockchain allows patients and doctors to share data in a secure encrypted format. It is the answer to the question of how to make a telemedicine app more secure. Blockchain allows doctors to keep the detailed patient history with their treatments, procedures, tests and lab results. It makes those records more efficient to transfer and because of the digital ‘chain of blocks’ it is close to impossible to change or tamper with a single block. Using blockchain technology helps with legalities since blockchain is immutable - it ensures claims are accurate and cuts down on insurance fraud and patient claims.
With the help of wearable devices, doctors can monitor the patient’s condition and get notified in case of an emergency. Intelligent scales, fitness trackers or stress meters allow health professionals to gather lots of information about a patient's health in order to adjust treatment plans. There are also devices like smart drug dispensers that allow physicians to set a pill schedule without involving the patient.
Storing data can be done either in the cloud or on-premise. More and more businesses recognize the advantages of having a cloud environment with solutions like AWS or Google Cloud. Selleo can handle setting up cloud storage for you with the best tools on the market with our DevOps cloud services.
As far as the technical stack goes, we can mention a few tools that can be used for telehealth projects:
- Libraries and frameworks: React Native, ReactJS, VueJS, NextJS
- Deployment: Netlify, Vercel, AWS S3
- Design library: Ant Design, Bootstrap
- Frameworks: Ruby on Rails, NestJS, ExpressJS
- Videoconferencing: Twilio, Vonage
- Chat: Twilio, Socket.io
- Database: PostgreSQL, MySQL, MongoDB
- Payments: Stripe, PayPal, Braintree
- Deployment: AWS, Google Cloud, Kubernetes, Terraform, Vault
- Search & filters: Elastic search, Algolia
- Mailing: AWS SES, SendGrid
- Geolocation: Google Maps Platform
- Notifications: Firebase Cloud Messaging, Twilio
Telemedicine must-have features
A typical telemedicine application can be divided into three parts: a patient app, a doctor app and a complex admin panel. Let’s focus on the must-have features for patients and doctors.
Features for patients
- Registration - patients should have the ability to sign up via mobile number, social network or e-mail. Since the application is handling sensitive data, it requires a higher level of protection like two-factor authentication via SMS, voice or phone.
- Patient profile - should include necessary medical records and information. Together with a personalized dashboard, they help to observe treatment progress.
- Appointments and calendar - patients should have the ability to check their future appointments, manage them based on doctor’s availability as well as be able to edit or cancel them.
- Search bar - allows to search for medical care specialists based on one or more criteria like specialization, proximity, rating, etc.).
- Communication - the application should allow communication via audio or video conferencing or live chat. Calls can be used in case of emergency and for the first version of the mobile app you can implement only photo-based consultations eg. for dermatologists. Make sure the chats utilize end-to-end encryption protocols (AES-256, and HMAC-SHA256).
- Notifications - push notifications help to keep track of appointments, medication etc.
- Payment integration - monetization in a telemedicine app can be done via a payment gateway like Stripe, PayPal or Braintree. Make sure to allow users to view their transaction history.
Rating and reviews - a must-have feature in a telemedicine app. It ensures proper service quality based on feedback from patients.
Features for doctors
- Doctor profile - practitioners should fill out accurate information about their specialization, experience, etc. You can also allow patients to check doctors’ licenses and proof of medical capabilities.
- Communication - patient-doctor interaction should be identical for both sides. If you are working on a smaller budget implement a photo-based consultation first to later move on to audio and video chat.
- Scheduling and calendar - doctors should be able to set their availability, view their bookings, manage their calendar and accept consultation requests.
- Medical prescription - a telemedicine solution should allow placing prescriptions digitally. Patients are able to get the medication from a drugstore or other healthcare facility.
- Video/audio recording - a nice-to-have feature is the ability to save or download consultations. They can be later used to track the treatment progress or for accurate referencing over time.
- Dashboard and analytics - doctors should have specific dashboards to make necessary adjustments to the prescriptions and treatments.
- Pharmacy databases - the app can integrate with drug stores to provide doctors and patients with medicine availability etc.
How to develop a telemedicine application?
If you are looking to develop a fully-functional telemedicine application it is crucial to highlight the key stages of development. We can narrow them down to 6 steps:
- Evaluate your idea Any successful application fulfils a pre-defined set of criteria. In the very first step, you should consider how your app will be used, what are the customer requirements and why do you want to create a telehealth app. The answers will help your developers understand your demand and make the development process easier.
- Business analysis Identify the buyers’ persona of your target audience. This will help you find out what are the problems of your potential customers and enable you to provide them with the right solution straight away. Always strive to create a product that caters to those particular problems.
- Market analysis As the demand for remote healthcare services is increasing the competition also is. Conduct a market due diligence to find out the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors, find out their pricing and marketing strategies.
- Value proposition A unique selling point is what will help you stand out from the crowd. Highlight what makes you different from the competition with a one-of-a-kind value proposition.
- Prototyping and testing Before deploying your application create an MVP and test it on a small group of people. Look for bugs and apply the collected feedback. This will help your audience to understand how the solution works as well as make them feel involved in the creation process.
- Choose the right marketing People often skip this step, but marketing is crucial for success. Choosing the right market channel enhances your app’s profitability by directing your product to the right audience at the right time and place.
Challenges in telehealth software development
Creating a new product often introduces a set of new challenges and telemedicine is no different, especially taking into account the sensitive data transfer.
Regulatory compliance Depending on the market your product is meant for it has to be compliant with the regulations like:
- HIPAA for the USA (read more about HIPAA compliance here)
- PIPEDA for Canada
- Data Protection Directive 1995/46/EC and the e-Privacy Directive 2002/58/EC/ IEC 62304 for Europe as well as GDPR (if you want to find out more about the topic read How To Meet GDPR Requirements In Mobile And Web Applications)
Those regulations ensure the safety and security of patients as well as high medical standards of telehealth solutions.
- Security concerns Security concerns can be easily resolved by ensuring biometrics access to the app, the use of multi-device authorization and leveraging end-to-end encryption protocols.
- Physicians’ licences Find a way to check physicians’ license permits to conduct practice and provide healthcare services.
- Design and development When creating a mobile app it is crucial to take into account navigation, layout and basic functionalities. Remember about user-friendly UI and UX and ensure compatibility with existing systems and various mobile devices.
Telemedicine is definitely the way into the future. The popularity of this type of solution is constantly growing and can be a great way to build your presence on the market. What is more, telehealth solutions can be monetized, which means instant profit for your business. Before you start the development, think about the type of application you want to create, your target audience as well as the must-have features of the product. This all will influence the technologies used for development purposes. Ensure the right level of security and compliance with international regulations connected to the medical industry.
The development process can be outsourced to various regions and most businesses recognize the advantages behind it. If you are searching for a reliable healthcare app outsourcing vendor feel free to contact the Selleo team. We will ensure your product meets all the requirements of your customers while meeting the international security standards.