Telehealth is modernizing the healthcare sector globally as we speak. But there's still features and app considerations to address. See how to approach your telehealth app development step by step.
It is forecasted that by 2032, there will be a shortage of between 46,900 to 121,900 doctors in the U.S. alone. The COVID-19 pandemic showed that many hospitals were not prepared for a public health emergency. The situation in Europe isn’t drastically different – the OECD reports that over 28% of patients spend more than a day to see a doctor, with another 61% having to wait over a month.
This widespread problem isn’t limited to emergency rooms and GPs. The shortage of healthcare professionals stretches across the entire industry. For instance, it is estimated that there are approximately 30 psychologists per 100,000 people and 15 psychiatrists per 100,000 people.
Here’s where telehealth solutions come into play, aiming to mitigate the healthcare services gap worldwide. In this article, we’ll explore telehealth meaning and discuss how to approach the app development process for your telehealth app.
Telehealth meaning – what is it exactly?
What if healthcare professionals could see patients virtually? That’s exactly what telehealth software provides – an effective way to deliver care and health services remotely.
These telehealth platforms allow patients to connect with their healthcare providers using smartphones, tablets, and computers. As a result, doctors can fit more consultations into their day, as they don’t need to waste time bringing in patients. Video consultations tend to be shorter than face-to-face appointments, whereas it offers a more personal experience when compared to phone consultations.
Unlike telemedicine, telehealth also encompasses health-related education services such as diabetes management, nutrition, mental health, and more. By contrast, telemedicine technology refers to solutions geared narrowly to the delivery of clinical care virtually.
Telehealth vs telemedicine — how are they different?
The distinction between telehealth vs telemedicine technology is a subtle one – and primarily concerns scope. Telemedicine technology refers to the use of remote technology to provide clinical services such as emergency healthcare, general consultations, etc.
Telehealth solutions approach healthcare more broadly, and help patients access other non-clinical services. These include:
- Health education and awareness training
- Diabetes Support and guidance
- Administrative meetings
- Palliative care
- Therapeutic care
- Health welfare and financial advice
Telehealth allows healthcare professionals to provide a wide range of services remotely – ones that don’t directly involve diagnosis and treatment. The requirements for telehealth platforms are much more demanding than for telemedicine.
At its core, telemedicine only requires a secure telecommunications channel – video messaging. A telemedicine app would benefit from syncing medical records, but essentially, the main benefits are gained from video conversations with doctors and nurses.
By contrast, telehealth platforms focus far more on digitalizing the entire healthcare journey. Yes, telehealth will need to sync medical records. But they will also have to display learning records, sync prescriptions with pharmacies, and offer advice and guidance through help centers, among others.
Therefore, telehealth makes great use of AI and machine learning to understand and predict patient patterns and provide assistance when necessary. A brilliant example here is using image recognition to help diagnosis and signposting – such as Infervision.
How to approach your telehealth platform development?
Here are some useful steps and considerations to follow when developing your own telehealth platform.
Learn about health/data privacy regulations (both local and global)
Patient data is one of the most sensitive and protected forms of data available. Therefore, any platform dealing with health data must adhere to the data privacy regulations of their local country, and globally if developing a worldwide app.
For instance, health data in the US is covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
Under this, any company handling health data must:
- Ensure data remains confidential and available to the patient at all times.
- Protect health data from anticipated threats or hazards to data security, as well as unauthorized disclosure or misuse.
- Ensure all parts of an organization – including applications – are HIPAA compliant.
When you create a telehealth platform remember about compliance.
In the EU, information relating to health is considered “Special Category Data” and must be handled securely as governed by the General Data Production Regulations (GDPR).
Under GDPR, this data should not be disclosed without the patient’s permission. Respectively, data handlers should protect this information from unauthorized access, loss, and theft.
Understand the technologies that telehealth platforms are based on
There are several technologies that telehealth solutions are founded upon. Telehealth developers must be familiar with each of these and understand how they can be used within their applications.
- Artificial Intelligence – refers to the ability of computers to carry out tasks independently from humans. AI has a wide array of applications within healthcare – from predictive algorithms, to smart inventory management and calendar optimization. The possibilities are endless.
- Internet of Things (IoT) – relates to the use of interconnected devices and sensors that share data for analysis. Telehealth uses smart sensors to monitor patient data, such as heart rate, step count, and activity. This information can be stored on a telehealth app and shared with medical professionals to improve care.
- Cloud storage – cloud storage infrastructure is vital for ensuring that all information – whether that’s appointments, patient records, medical information, and resources – is available whenever and wherever it's needed.
- Blockchain – the Blockchain refers to a secure, decentralized ledger that allows for the transfer of transactions and assets securely. It reduces telehealth’s reliance on a centralized single point of failure, increasing security and allowing for easier verification of identity and patient information.
- Big Data – this relates to the existence of large data sets, and the increased ability of AI to process, analyze, and understand mass data. Big Data helps train AI algorithms to improve predictive analytics and help telehealth developers optimize their customer experience.
Assess if you should use a Saws or a custom-made solution
An easy way to implement a software solution of any type is to use a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) tool. A SaaS will give your telehealth solution a solid, cloud-native framework for expanding your product. That, however, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider developing a custom software platform in-house.
Should you opt for a SaaS or a custom-made solution? Consider the following:
- Are your features unique enough to warrant a custom software solution? If the features you’re looking to implement already exist as off-the-shelf SaaS modules, perhaps building a solution from scratch isn’t necessary. For instance, developing a video conferencing platform is difficult and expensive, and it’s far easier to integrate an existing module such as Zoom using an SDK.
- How different is your product from similar available SaaS modules? If the experience and features you’re offering are unique, there are unlikely to be any off-the-shelf modules to choose from. In this case, your only option would be to develop the technical framework yourself.
- What is your team’s resource capacity? Embarking on the development of a custom software platform is a mistake if your team isn’t big or experienced enough to see it through. Smaller teams and startups are far better off creating a minimum viable product (MVP) from existing services than developing their own infrastructure.
- How difficult will it be for your end-users to integrate with your platform? Healthcare systems are notorious for being slow, outdated, and hard to integrate into modern solutions. If these base integrations don’t already exist, your team may have to develop them from scratch. Remember, SaaS solutions usually require a monthly fee to use. Factor these into your budget!
Decide which devices you want the platform to operate on
The key question here is where are your end-users likely to use your app? Your main options are:
- iOS and Android
- Native or Web
Generally, mobile apps are great for patient-facing telehealth apps. For most people, their mobile phone is their most accessible device, so it makes perfect sense to develop an application for mobile platforms.
Whether you're building a telehealth vs telemedicine app, it's essential to establish which platforms you want to be present on.
However, the use of mobile devices isn’t so ubiquitous in workplaces. Web-based or desktop portals are a safe bet if your app will be used by healthcare providers. Remember, the systems that medical equipment is hooked up to are almost always desktop computers.
The ideal selection is both! A well-optimized and connected telehealth app will provide multiple touchpoints for different users: mobile devices for patients and web or desktop apps for doctors.
Decide which APIs to use
APIs are essential for ensuring that data flows freely and effectively within your telehealth application. APIs and SDKs provide ready-to-go integrations and features. Along with SaaS, market-ready APIs provide a great technical framework for you to develop your product.
What APIs and SDKs are particularly useful for telehealth apps?
- VSEE SDK: A dedicated telemedicine SDK.
- Vidyo: Video communications API solution.
- WebRTC: An open-source platform for communication.
- Twilio: A great SDK for instant messaging and video.
Many APIs are closed-source and require license fees to use. Some platforms like WebRTC are free and open-source, but these often lack key features.
The telehealth industry helps to resolve the deep-rooted supply and capacity issues found in the U.S. healthcare system. By offering a remote platform for patients to seek medical help and advice, telehealth reduces the strain on hospitals, clinics, and healthcare providers.
The foundation of the sector’s growth is the development of great, efficient telehealth applications. To ensure their telehealth app is up to scratch, developers must:
- Understand applicable data privacy laws
- Find the right SDKs and APIs to implement the features they need
- Consider how end users will interact with their products
- Extensively test the usability and quality of telehealth products.
Telehealth meaning differs slightly from that of telemedicine technology - and offers a more complete healthcare experience for patients.
Should telehealth providers turn to a tech partner to develop the product? It is far more costly to build an experienced team to develop a product than to outsource to a professional healthcare app development team – cutting development costs dramatically.
The telehealth industry is growing rapidly. With the challenges for the healthcare system only expected to worsen, there’s never been a better time to offer a smart telehealth solution for our digital age.
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