Modern technology has made it possible for doctors to have virtual consultations with their patients irrespective of their geographical location. Telemedicine technology has seen a never seen before upsurge in the adoption rates as the result of the coronavirus pandemic.
With lockdowns on a global scale making access to healthcare facilities difficult and increased risk of contracting infections in in-person visits, the telemedicine industry was perfectly poised to grow. Healthcare practitioners who managed to rapidly scale their telehealth offerings reported a 50 to 175 times increase in telehealth visits as compared to pre-COVID era.
The convenience and flexibility that telehealth provides has made it a lucrative choice for healthcare organizations both big and small. The changing patient and provider preferences leaning towards telemedicine and projected shortage of healthcare providers in the years to come indicates that telemedicine isn’t just a hype.
The demand for telemedicine app development is going to keep soaring even after the effects of the pandemic subside. If you happen to be hanging on the tenterhooks of telemedicine technology and waiting to take the plunge, read on to know the must know about telemedicine app development.
We have compiled our decade long knowledge of developing telemedicine apps for a range of clients and condensed it into a comprehensive telemedicine app development guide that you need to get started on your journey.
Here is an overview of what we would be covering further within this article.
- What is telemedicine?
2. What is the difference between telemedicine and telehealth?
3. What are the benefits of telemedicine
4. What features to include within your telemedicine app?
5. What are the steps to develop a telemedicine app
6. How much does telemedicine app development cost?
7. How can you make money from telemedicine?
8. What are the challenges in telemedicine implementation?
9. What are the future possibilities of telemedicine technology?
What is telemedicine?
Telemedicine is the use of telecommunication technology to deliver care remotely. The physicians can access, diagnose and treat patients virtually. The patients can also avail a wide range of services such as consultations, follow-up appointments and remote patient monitoring at their own convenience.
There are also different types of telemedicine that you can practice. Telemedicine apps can fall into one or more of the following categories.
1. Real-time telemedicine apps
Real-time or synchronous telemedicine involves video/audio conferencing between the patients and the physicians. Face-to-face video consultations allow the patients and the providers to communicate in real time.
2. Store-and-forward telemedicine apps
This is a data-driven approach towards telemedicine in which the physicians can securely share the patient’s medical information such as laboratory tests, blood reports and radiological scans with the specialists.
3. Remote patient monitoring apps
This telemedicine technology uses medical devices in combination with the internet of things (IoT) to monitor a patient’s vital stats and overall health in a remote setting and transmit the data over to the physicians through connected technology.
What is the difference between telemedicine and telehealth?
Telehealth and telemedicine are often used interchangeably in the healthcare industry. However, telemedicine is just one subset of telehealth.
Telehealth is a broader term that also encompasses use of telecommunication technology to cater to public health at large. Non-clinical events such as physician training, continuing medical education (CME) and apps for announcing disease outbreaks and recommending healthcare best practices to the general public all fall under telehealth. Telemedicine on the other hand is specific to the use of technology at a smaller scale for delivery of healthcare services to the patient by the clinician.
What are the benefits of telemedicine?
Telemedicine offers numerous benefits for both the patients as well as the healthcare providers.
For patients, telemedicine translates to convenience, improved patient experience, easy access to care, lesser time spent on commute and safety and comfort of availing physician consultations from the comfort of the home.
For providers, telemedicine offers benefits such as increased efficiency, lesser no-show appointments, increased revenue and larger patient base.
Telemedicine can also find its application in a number of clinical settings.
1. Preventative health care
2. Regular clinical consultations and remote diagnosis
3. Follow-up telemedicine visits
4. Post-hospitalization telemedicine
5. Remote chronic disease management
6. Geriatric care and assisted living telemedicine
7. Specialist referrals and care
8. Emergency telemedicine and teletriage
9. Ambulatory telemedicine
10. Telemedicine for specialties such as dermatology, cardiology, mental health etc.
What features to include within your telemedicine app?
The biggest benefit of developing a telemedicine app is that you can choose to add the features that you need according to your clinical workflow. But what features do you need to include when developing your telemedicine app? Should you go all-in for developing a feature-rich app or one with the minimum viable features?
The telemedicine app platform that you develop will have three core users- the patient, the provider and the system admin. As a result, you need three apps within your telemedicine platform
1. Patient telemedicine app
2. Provider telemedicine app
3. Telemedicine admin panel.
Each of these apps need a basic set of features to be able to meet the user requirements. The product with the minimum set of features that are absolutely must-have is called a minimum viable product (MVP). An MVP approach accelerates the time to market of your telemedicine app while adding scalability to the development process. It also allows for a feedback integration loop that results in the development of a telemedicine app that caters perfectly to the user requirements while maximizing the user satisfaction.
While discussing the must-have features of your telemedicine app, we will therefore divide them into the MVP feature set and the advanced feature set.
Patient Telemedicine App Features
1. Patient registration
A patient sign-in feature is the first and foremost feature that the patient app needs. It can be done via email or phone number. A number of apps use social networks for registration. However, given the stringent norms about security of the patient’s health information and laws like HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability And Accountability Act) governing the same, if you plan to use third-party social networks to sign up, make sure you also include two factor authorization via SMS or email.
2. Patient Profile
The next step after registration needs to be setting up the patient profile where they can enter their demographic details and medical history. Integration with the patient’s EHR is of crucial importance to allow for streamlining of the workflow. Filling up the patient profile needs to be quick and efficient. Nobody likes to fill out long forms and making this step longer can negatively impact the user experience.
3. Find a doctor
Search algorithms and filters need to be in place for the patients to connect with the right doctor. There can be multiple criteria through which the patients can search for the doctor of their preference. Geographical proximity, overall rating, doctor speciality, language the doctor can communicate in, insurance coverage, etc. are a few filters that you can incorporate. However, for the MVP version of your app, it is advisable to limit the search entities.
4. Appointment booking
Once the patients have selected the doctor they want to consult with, they should be able to view the available slots for appointment on the doctor’s calendar and book a slot at the time and date that is convenient for them. Additionally, there needs to be an option available for the patients to edit or cancel the appointment from their end if the need arises.
5. Real-time audio/video consultations
Video and audio consultations are possibly the most important feature when building a telemedicine app. Not only does the video/audio streaming have to be high quality for optimum clarity and minimal buffering or lag in communication, but it also needs to be compliant to the HIPAA norms.
This is the major reason for choosing telemedicine app development over using existing video conferencing platforms like Skype and Zoom. The latter have not signed the HIPAA BAA (business associate agreement) and thus are not secure platforms for transmitting sensitive patient health information.
Since the internet speed and connection quality may vary on a case to case basis, your platform needs to optimize the video quality based on it to ensure uninterrupted communication without lag or buffering.
6. Text consultations
Text messages are a great way to address minor queries that the patients may have without having to schedule a new consultation. It is also beneficial for the doctors who do not need to take the extra time out but can rather respond to the texts in their spare time. Giving the patients the option to attach photographs or files securely is also a great value add to the text consultations.
7. Payment processing
Payments are an important part of the telemedicine app development feature list. You can choose between developing a custom payment service, integrating third-party payment gateways like Stripe, PayPal or choose a mix of the two. When you choose a third-party provider, it needs to be a reliable and well-researched choice.
Trustworthy third-party payment providers allow for high speed transactions, but they also charge very high fees. Custom development is time and resource intensive but pays off in the long run. Whatever you choose, make sure that you are following the latest security protocols to safeguard yourself from malicious attacks and possible financial losses.
8. Ratings and reviews
Rating and reviews on the telemedicine app are an essential component when developing a doctor-on-demand telemedicine app. They help patients determine whether the doctor they choose would be a good match for them. If you are aiming for a doctor-patient aggregator telemedicine app development, collection of patient feedback in the form of ratings and reviews is an absolute must. Feedback collection in the form of reviews should ideally take less than half a minute and five point star rating should come as a natural afterthought when designing the app.
Provider Telemedicine App Features
1. Physician profile
The telemedicine app being developed should allow the healthcare providers to specify their medical competencies, specialization, years of experience in medical practice, state practice licenses held and educational credentials and add them to their profile.
2. Calendar and appointment management
The doctors should be able to set up their hours of availability in the telemedicine app and receive appointment requests from the patients. While patients can select the appointment slot according to their own preferences, approving them is something the physicians should have the control over.
3. Video/audio conferencing
Just like the patient telemedicine apps need communication tools, the provider telemedicine apps also need to have audio.video conferencing and text messaging features.
4. EHR retrieval
With telemedicine app development, integration of the EHRs within the app is possible. Physicians can view the patient’s health records and lab reports in real time. All historical visits and treatment offered can be retrieved and studied before the appointment with a few clicks. As a result, physicians can spend more time in patient interactions.
Advanced Features in Telemedicine App Development
1. Push notifications
Push notifications can be a feature to be integrated in the advanced stages of telemedicine app development. Notifications for upcoming appointments can be sent out on both provider’s as well as patient apps to boost the clinical efficiency.
2. Recording of the video sessions
Recording of the telemedicine sessions and their storage on HIPAA compliant cloud storage platforms can be used for accurate referencing in the future.
3. Peer-to-peer consultations
Second opinions and specialist referrals within the telemedicine app is another feature that you can choose to include in the advanced development phase of your telemedicine app
4. Medication reminders
The telemedicine app can send out medication reminders to the patient’s phone and remind them when their medications and prescriptions are in need of refills.
Digital prescriptions through ePrescribing can eliminate the hassle of visiting a physician in-person to get the medical prescriptions.
6. Hospital navigation
The telemedicine app can use geolocation and GPS services to chart out a driving plan to the hospital when the need arises.
7. Personalized patient dashboard and portal
This is a complex feature but a great value-add for telemedicine app development. A personalized patient dashboard is a great tool for boosting patient engagement as it allows patients to see their treatment progress and get in control of their own data.
8. Analytics dashboard
Advances in data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms can be leveraged in the telemedicine app for extracting data-driven insights and leveraging them to further patient care.
9. Integration with medical devices
Integrating the telemedicine app with medical devices through the internet of medical things is the foundation of remote patient monitoring. Medical devices integration is the best way to improve the patient outcomes when delivering data driven care.
10. Chatbots for telemedicine app
Chatbots that are powered by artificial intelligence are capable of holding complex conversations with the patients. These can be used as a screener for the patients and collecting the basic health information before the actual telemedicine consultation.
What are the steps to develop a telemedicine app?
1. App idea evaluation
Like with any kind of software development, telemedicine app development also needs to have a structured development process. While the ultimate goal of development is clear, you need to make sure that the idea is viable.
- Who will the end user of your telemedicine app be?
- What will make your app different from the apps that are already out in the market?
- What is your unique value proposition?
- What type of telemedicine would your app cater to?
All these are the questions that you should be looking for getting answers to during the evaluation stage of telemedicine app development. Having a target market clearly visualized right from the get-go allows you to focus your marketing efforts on the specific segment post the development and launch of your telemedicine app, allowing you to achieve better reach and market penetration.
2. Conduction of business analysis
Business analysis involves planning for the resources that would be needed for developing your telemedicine app.
- How viable is the development plan?
- What are the budget requirements and how do you plan to achieve a return on investment?
The precise description of the telemedicine app functionality, the set of features that would be incorporated into the app and the system logic have to be determined during the business analysis phase.
3. Competitor and Market research
Market research is an important part of the discovery stage of telemedicine app development. Before jumping headlong into development, it is important to research the market and competitor apps that are already available.
- What are the features they offer?
- What are the strengths, weaknesses and potential areas of opportunity?
- What gap exists in the market needs that your app can fulfil?
4. Deciding on the platform of development
What type of telemedicine app are you looking for developing? Is it going to be a desktop-based telemedicine app, a mobile-based application or a combination of the two? Given the popularity of mobile technology and the convenience and flexibility they offer, mobile apps should always be considered in your development plan either during the initial phase or at a later stage.
Even with mobile telemedicine apps, do you go for native development i.e. a separate code written for both iOS and android version of the app or do you go for cross-platform development which has a shared codebase for both the platforms.
Deciding on the platform of development would allow you to accurately forecast the budget requirements. It would also help in coming up with a realistic timeline of telemedicine app development.
5. UI/UX design and Prototyping
Experienced telemedicine app developers will always stress on the importance of UI/UX design and the prototyping stage. UI stands for user interface design while UX signifies the user experience design. Both these design elements contribute to the look and feel of the telemedicine app to be developed and determines the kind of experience the user will have while navigating through the app.
A prototype on the other hand demonstrates how the application will function. Prototypes can range in complexity from low-fidelity prototypes which can simply be illustrations of the flow of the application on a whiteboard to complex high-fidelity prototypes which are basically renditions of what your final application would look like in the future.
6. Development and testing
The development phase essentially entails the conversion of the app design and prototype into lines of code. Quality assurance and testing needs to work hand-in-hand with the development process. Partnering with experienced telemedicine app developers allows for setting up of streamlined processes that ensure high quality and performance of the telemedicine app developed.
The process also needs to be mindful of the security and privacy requirements of healthcare software development. The application developed needs to comply with regulatory and legal requirements. This is another aspect which the developers would need to be mindful of and companies specializing in healthcare software are already well versed in.
How much does telemedicine app development cost?
The cost of telemedicine app development depends on a number of factors.
- Timeline of development– Telemedicine app development timeline can span over 3-6 months for a basic app and longer for development of feature rich apps with complex functionalities. The cost of app development thus increases with an increase in the time required.
- Team size and expertise– For the discovery stage, the team needs to have business analysts, project manager, UI/UX designer, and software architects. The development team needs front-end and back-end developers, quality assurance engineers, and depending on the technology and platform of development selected, the team size grows. Experienced app developers come at a higher cost. While having a large development team can accelerate your development efforts and shorten the time-to-market, the cost also increases if the team is bigger.
- Location of the development team team (onshore/offshore)- The developer salaries are higher in the United States so onshore development costs are also higher. In contrast, offshore development teams have been proven to deliver the same results in fraction of the cost. Moreover, with the coronavirus pandemic making work-from-home the new norm, the divide between onshore and offshore development has been brought down with the latter being as effective as onshore development teams.
- Complexity of app features and scope of telemedicine app– The greater the level of complexity of features in the telemedicine app, the longer it will take to materialize and higher will be the cost of development. Launching the MVP version of your app will always be more cost effective than a full fledged feature-rich app.
In addition to all this, you also have to allocate budget for the post development and launch activities such as app maintenance and marketing efforts.
High amount of variables in development, there can be no definitive answer to the exact cost of telemedicine app development. However, based on your specifications and features that you plan to include, you can always request for a custom quote to gain insight on how much it will cost to convert your app idea into reality.
How can you make money from telemedicine?
Developing a telemedicine app is a considerable financial investment. It is only wise that you have a plan of action ready to ensure return on your investment. Here are a few ways healthcare professionals can monetize telemedicine apps.
1. Pay-per-consultation model
The patients are required to pay consultation fees as and when they avail the telemedicine services. This is a great way to supplement the income from your existing practice and leverage telemedicine to make an extra income.
2. Subscription model
This involves monthly or annual memberships and subscriptions for the patients. The upfront payment is a benefit for both patients and providers. Ongoing subscriptions also boost patient loyalty bringing in better financial returns.
3. Software as a service model.
SaaS has already proven itself to be a successful business model and for those with an entrepreneurial mindset in the field of healthcare, it can be a rewarding business venture indeed. The telemedicine software you are developing can be offered to other healthcare institutions on a fixed fee basis in return for the software as a service.
What are the challenges in telemedicine implementation?
1. Data security
Collection, storage and transmission of any kind of medical information needs stringent security norms to be followed. Ensuring data security when developing a telemedicine app is a huge challenge. End to end encryption of data, two-step authentication and storage in EHRs in HIPAA compliant cloud servers are some of the best practices for ensuring safety of the patient data and overcoming the data security challenge.
2. Regulatory and legal compliance
The legal and regulatory requirements must be taken into account when developing a telemedicine app for your healthcare organization. Every country has their own set of regulatory protocols for telemedicine app development that needs to be adhered to. In the USA, the app needs to be compliant with HIPAA. In Canada, PIPEDA needs to be taken into account. For the European Union, the data protection directive includes GDPR (general data protection regulations) which the development team need to be mindful of.
3. Selecting a reliable development team
Vetting and hiring reliable app developers who align their efforts with your goals and strive towards making your vision a reality is easier said than done. Selecting and hiring an in-house team of developers is a resource and time intensive activity.
Outsourcing to experienced developers is always a better option since they already have expertise in the field and have rich experience of working together as a team. It allows you to get your telemedicine app developed at lower costs while ensuring high quality deliverables. Looking at their portfolio and knowing the kind of projects they have previously worked on can give you valuable insights on the end results you can expect.
Future possibilities in telemedicine technology
Telemedicine has just entered its golden era and it is only going to go forward from now on. The future possibilities of telemedicine technology are limitless.
With advances in Artificial Intelligence, smart device technologies and Machine learning capabilities, the future of telemedicine is going to be data driven and focused on not only on improving patient outcomes but also on enhancing the patient experience. Advancements in Big data, cloud computing and blockchain technology offers promising results in making telemedicine more secure and outcome oriented.
With healthcare organizations both big and small making the move towards telemedicine, the time is ripe to capitalize on this technology and take your healthcare practice to the next level.