Telehealth is getting new impetus during COVID 19, and the concept of meeting and consulting your physician through the computer or mobile device is getting popular all over the world. As COVID 19 cases have been rising, it is becoming next to impossible for patients with symptoms of the virus to get in touch with their physicians or get admitted to a hospital.
But with telemedicine, this problem has been solved. The use of this technology has grown by leaps and bounds and companies have begun to recognize a new need in the market - building telemedicine apps.
Companies around the world have begun to scale up their teams to create apps that can serve as ‘frontline caregivers’ for patients. The US Congress recently released an emergency funding of about $8.3 billion for Telemedicine. Under the Federal Medicare program, they have also loosened the restrictions for treating people through telemedicine, since COVID 19 began to spread. There are also plans to expand the usage of telemedicine apps to benefit people older than 65 years of age.
According to a McKinsey & Company study, several people who canceled their medical appointments with their physicians admitted that they prefer to do their visits online. The American Medical Association has reported that there has been a huge surge in the use of telemedicine with the spread of COVID 19. Prior to the pandemic, only 28% of the physicians used telehealth, but now the numbers are surging ahead. In March 2020, SSCG Media Group conducted a study that revealed that 53% of the healthcare practisers prefer to use telemedicine due to the restrictions imposed by COVID 19, while prior to the pandemic, they were not using it.
Image Credit: eMarketer
The above figures prove that telemedicine apps are going to be here forever, and they will always be the first choice of people who do not wish to physically visit a hospital unless they get really sick. Medical practitioners are also embracing this new technique of looking after their patients unless it is safe enough to consult physically.
Here’s a brief run-through of the initial steps involved in developing a telemedicine platform in USA:
Every great creation starts with an idea. The idea of creating an app that fits the requirements of the patient and the physician is given utmost preference, and only when you reach a viable answer should you start on the next step, which is business analysis. You can also consider evaluating different business models that would work for a telemedicine platform (e.g. platform aggregators, standalone products, specific services, etc.) These business models can be compared to draw inferences regarding the business strategy, followed by contextual factors that lead to it.
The business analysts should identify the features your app needs, followed by performing detailed research on the products released by competitors, needs of the target segment, and available vectors of development. This gives you insight into the direction the whole thing should take.
At this time it would also help to gain clarity on the target customer segments, value proposition, channels, revenue streams, key activities, key partnerships, key resources, cost structure, and other parameters that are integral to the process of establishing telemedicine business.
The key here is to identify the unique features you want in the app. Research will have to be done to study the market and understand the other players in the market. Look at each competitor carefully, identify their strengths and weaknesses, including user reviews and ratings, and plan your app. This would help you develop a unique app that stands out from among the rest.
Once the app is carefully developed and ready for marketing, it has to be publicized through different channels for marketing. Hence, it is important to carefully select the channels and social media platforms that are frequented by your target segment.
Now that the need in the market has been identified and you are ready to develop the product, here are the essential functional features that you must have in it.
The essential features to be included for the patient’s use:
The first feature that your user would need is registration. You can also let the user sign in through third-party channels like Google, Facebook, etc., or with their email ID using a two-step verification process. In a typical two-factor authentication, there should be a combination of username and password. Since passwords can be easily hacked, putting in a multifactor authentication method with an extra level of identification security should give more security to the user. You can also consider employing biometric tools to sense unique physical characteristics like fingerprint or retina scanners as well.
Patient profile is the next crucial feature after registration, where the physician gets all the information about the patient (demographics, age, gender, etc). The online profile of the patient would be like an Electronic Health Record (EHR) at the hospital, containing the patient’s personal details and medical details. It can also include an archive for the patient’s prior medical records and treatment history.
Once the user profile is complete, the user’s next step would be to search for physicians. Incorporate search filters and algorithms to help patients find the physician they are looking for - according to medical specialty, region, proximity, language, rating, and so on. Once the search engine displays the results according to these filters, users can choose their preferred physicians/physicians and book an appointment according to availability.
Once the user books an appointment, next comes the most key element in the telemedicine platform - video conferencing. The video quality should be high so the physician can see the patient clearly, and examine the extent of the injuries, trauma, etc.
Since different people have different kinds of internet connection, the video has to adjust itself to avoid buffering. RTMP (Real-Time Messaging Protocol), RTSP (Real-time Streaming Protocol), Apple HLS, MPEG-DASH (Moving Picture Expert Group Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP) are some streaming protocols that can help you build a premium quality video chat.
Sometimes, video calls are not necessary, especially if a face to face consultation isn’t required. While video calls require undivided attention from the physicians, text messages can be answered at any time. So if patients want to ask a quick question, they can text the physician through the app, and the physician can answer it at any time. It can also be a live chat session, making it easy for the physician to answer the queries of more than one patient at a time. Twilio is one such platform - safe, reliable, and HIPAA-eligible.
If patients have to meet with the same physician for a follow-up or want to reschedule an appointment, they can do it with the help of the calendar feature in the app. The schedule can be synced with Google Calendar using the required plugin (Google Calendar API) to receive notifications regarding the scheduling and reminders.
There are three types of workflows in telemedicine. One is the “Store and Forward option” where the physician doesn’t have to meet with the patient. Rather, the patient can send over the medical images; the specialist can look at them and respond with the results. However, this is most suitable only for dermatology, radiology, and pathology as the physician would like to look at current images, previous images, and other documents.
The second is “Remote Monitoring” through which physicians can analyze the health of their patients with the help of monitoring devices. This would help them catch the early signs of a relapse of chronic diseases. The third type is “Real-time Interactive Services” where interactive services are provided to patients who need them in real-time. The assessment of the patient will be somewhat similar to face to face appointments.
By this time you would also have a clear idea of the revenue model you want to utilize for the platform. Options like licensed/subscription model, pay-as-you-go are good to consider in this scenario. Based on the model you’ve chosen, you would need an in-app payment method set up which can be utilized for all users.
For example, patients can pay an online consultation fee, and the physicians can pay a fee to set up their telemedicine practice. While setting up the platform, you can consider gateways like Stripe, Braintree, and Paypal as they are found to be fast and highly secure.
The essential features to be included for the physician’s use:
In a telemedicine platform, the physicians should also have some specific features that must stand out. Here they are:
Understandably, just like the patient should have a profile, physicians should also have space to create their profiles. The profile can contain details about their medical certifications, experience, skills, specialization, etc. These details will assure the patients, giving them confidence that the physicians they are seeing are efficient and knowledgeable.
The app should have a calendar wherein the physician can make a note of their patient appointments.
If the patient wants to reschedule an appointment or cancel it, the physician can just approve it and make a note of it in the calendar.
There should be a feature wherein the physician can easily refer to the EHRs of multiple patients during consultation. Providing an option to download the medical details of the patients wouldn’t be a good idea as it could lead to security issues and data theft if the physician’s phone is tapped. So there should be a facility for viewing them in the app itself.
The physician should also be able to text the patient back and forth to keep up with their treatment process.
As per the medical regulations of some countries, telemedicine apps must connect patients with physicians located near their geographical location. The app can use Google Maps and similar services to determine a patient’s location.
An in-app rating system can be incorporated, so patients can rate and review physicians after their consultation. This feature would help other patients choose a good physician from those available in their particular location. This would also be helpful since the patients can get their prescriptions filled from nearby pharmacies.
Follow up consultations would help the physician keep track of the patient’s welfare. Incorporating an efficient monitoring system is an important part of follow up consultations in telemedicine development as it helps the physician access the patient’s previous medical records, irrespective of whether the patient was consulting that particular physician or not. This follow up would also help the physician determine whether the patient requires hospital admission or not.
This feature can be included for both patients and physicians. Notifications can remind physicians of their day’s appointments with various patients. For the patient, the reminder would, of course, be about upcoming consultations. The notifications can also alert when the patient cancels an appointment or when a particular physician cannot make a pre-booked appointment.
While developing an app, you can also create different templates for different kinds of prescriptions and lab tests. The patients can proceed with the prescription filling through these digital prescriptions and book lab tests as required.
To build a great application, you can include these technologies as well too:
Artificial Intelligence and healthcare go hand in hand. You can incorporate interactive features in the telemedicine app like voice recognition, chatbots, language processing, and so on. Physicians would be able to analyze a patient’s condition by looking at the results brought forth by the combination of telemedicine and AI.
A lot of information regarding the patients - their symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, test results, imaging data, insurance information, etc. has to be passed on to various departments. With Big Data and advanced analytics, healthcare professionals will be able to make sense of all the data and provide better patient care.
Big Data provides a system that ensures the safety of the data, and the capacity to manage it. It can gather and evaluate huge volumes of EHR data to improve diagnosis, provide accurate treatment, and conduct medical research.
Blockchain plays an important role in healthcare, enabling the seamless exchange of patient data and securing digital transactions across various medical entities. It also streamlines the information gathered from various health data sources which translates to: better remote patient monitoring, accuracy in diagnosis, and effectively tracking patient health status to improve treatment methods.
IoT helps physicians assess the important data collected from different devices in real-time, and this is an extremely useful technology when seniors are involved. Patients using wearables, smartwatches, and other IoT enabled health devices can be monitored remotely, and this would help them in times of heart attacks, strokes, etc.
Now, for the question that must have come to mind while planning telemedicine app development - What’s the cost?
The cost of developing the app would obviously depend on the following aspects:
It has been proved several times over that having a telemedicine platform will take your healthcare business to the next level. If you are looking for a topnotch quality telemedicine app for your business, Cabot Technology Solutions would be the perfect partner for you. We have experience in building unique apps for our customers and our promise of inimitable experience and commendable practical skills have made us the best in the field.
You can check out ezconsult, a telemedicine platform created by Cabot Technology Solutions. A glimpse of this product will give you a good idea of all the features you would need in a telemedicine platform. Patient profiles, physician profiles, review/rating system, scheduling - we can create it all.
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