As the novel coronavirus continues to sweep across the globe, many countries and territories have set up strict public health measures to curb the transmission of the virus. One of these measures that has taken its toll on our lives, is the quarantine. Being confined to home means you can neither visit your friend or loved one on the other side of town, nor can you schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor, unless your symptoms are related to COVID-19.
However, physical distancing does not necessarily obliterate social distancing as you can still meet friends on Skype, Facebook Messenger, and other instant messaging apps. The same way telemedicine is leveraging communication technologies to help you receive health care during the pandemic while staying at home.
Given the widespread enactment of stay-at-home orders across the world and crowding of our hospitals and clinics with patients battling with the infection, telemedicine poses a safe and effective way of reaching your healthcare provider without exposing yourself to health risks.
Not only that, but telemedicine also expands the reach of healthcare providers amid the rising demand for healthcare services.
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Telemedicine is one of the features of the digital revolution in healthcare. Through telemedicine platforms, doctors can interact with patients from any part of the world by leveraging software and communication tools. Doctors in private practice, as well as large hospital systems, are harnessing this tech solution to meet the health needs of thousands of patients using mobile and web interfaces.
According to Statista, the telemedicine market in the US was valued at $18 billion and is expected to reach $41 billion by 2021. So what is it about telemedicine that is driving its market value, signifying a growing user base?
1. Why Telemedicine?
There are several telehealth apps on the market including Babylon, MDLIVE, Dr. on Demand, Amwell, and many others. What advantages do these applications bring users over traditional office visits?
Availability of Care
Thanks to telemedicine apps, healthcare is accessible from remote regions with meager access to clinics. Telemedicine brings healthcare to the patient through their device of choice, in the comfort of their home. This bypasses the barrier of distance, allowing doctors to provide healthcare solutions without having the patient travel miles to see them.
Remote regions have fewer doctors and clinics compared to urban areas. Furthermore, large multidisciplinary hospitals are found only in large metropolitan areas. As a result, if one wants a specialist’s care, they have to travel miles for a 15-minute consultation. What’s even more difficult for residents of rural areas is to come back for follow up visits if they have a chronic illness or need a follow up after surgery.
Telemedicine apps help patients bypass this barrier, replacing a traditional office visit with a virtual one, thus, reducing the need for commutes.
Time-Efficient Healthcare Delivery
Another important benefit of telemedicine apps is that they save time for everybody. Patients defer long wait times, which is a blessing since office consultations often end in a referral to another specialist. Expedited care is at the heart of telemedicine applications. Patients and their healthcare providers get to schedule an appointment at the earliest convenience to avoid delays in care delivery.
For doctors, telemedicine helps to organize their workload more effectively. With telehealth options in large hospitals or even small clinics, doctors are sure that they are tending only to those with a dire need in case they come in person. Not every patient complaint requires a hospital visit. So if these health concerns can be addressed using a telemedicine app, doctors have more time to serve patients with serious conditions. Consecutively, more patients get timely help.
Efficient Administrative Operations
Telemedicine apps allow healthcare teams to spend more time on actual treatment, rather than filling in documents. Since paperwork in most telehealth apps is automated, administrative teams spend less time filling forms and drafting documents. Reducing this administrative workload, in turn, saves practices a lot of budget and optimizes profits.
For doctors, telemedicine apps make it easy to access patient medical records, including previous consultations, which helps to smooth out the continuum of care.
2. Telemedicine App Development: Technologies Involved
Building telemedicine apps often involves using such technologies as AI, blockchain, Big Data, and the Internet of Things (IoT).
Using Machine Learning algorithms and models, telemedicine developers can create apps with natural language processing, voice and image recognition, making it possible for patients to interact with chatbots that can refer patients to specialists or even provide a full consultation by issuing prescriptions.
These AI-powered chatbots are trained on vast medical datasets, and, therefore, can understand the patient intent during conversations and generate appropriate responses, which culminates in providing proper health care. Many doctors use chatbots to monitor patients’ medical conditions and provide follow up consults.
Telemedicine apps use the blockchain technology to secure patient information and provide controlled access to patient health records. As opposed to paper records that may be stolen or compromised by unauthorized access, blockchain stores patient data in encrypted blocks, with passcodes only made available to the patient and authorized medical personnel or insurance workers.
Healthcare, as an industry, accumulates unbelievable amounts of personal data, you will need to build HIPAA-compliant systems to manage them. Hospitals and healthcare providers keep large datasets of patient health information, imaging studies, and anonymized data. This data, consolidated in a digital platform, allows easy access for medical use to improve treatment and diagnosis, and to stimulate healthcare research.
AI tools leverage big data to make diagnoses that may be more accurate than those given by a healthcare specialist. For example, a chatbot can be trained on thousands of patient imaging studies to enable it to identify subtle diagnostic details that are easy to miss for humans.
3. Features in a Typical Telemedicine Application
To boost patient experience and engagement, a patient telehealth app, at a bare minimum, must include the following:
Registration: Patients should be able to sign in to the app via their mobile number, email, or social media profile. Since data shared on the app is highly sensitive, two-factor authentication is recommended, so users can feel safe. HIPAA compliance will add other must-have security checks to the app.
Patient Profile: Users should be able to add baseline information, such as age, previous medical history, and other details with a point-and-click clarity and ease.
Appointments: This feature allows users to schedule an appointment based on a doctor’s availability. Using this feature, they may also reschedule or cancel their appointments.
Payments: The patient frontend should have a payment gateway system such as Stripe to allow patients to book paid appointments easily and also view their payment history.
Secure Chats: The patient app should have a one-on-one chat interface that allows a free flow of communication between patients and doctors. The app can also have a message feature that allows patients and doctors to send asynchronous messages for a follow up. A chat interface should also enable images and videos uploading.
On the doctor’s end, the telemedicine app should also have certain features to increase usability and efficiency. These include:
Doctor Profile: This feature allows healthcare providers to fill out accurate information about their education, specialty, and work experience that users can easily view.
Scheduling: Using this feature, doctors can set their availability and manage their appointments.
Communication: The interactive interface, similar to the one in the patient app, should allow one-to-one messaging, as well as image and video uploads. Plus ability to communicate with colleagues, at request.
Prescriptions: Doctors should be able to place prescriptions digitally and send them to the patient easily using the same telemedicine app.
4. Cost Implications of Telemedicine App Development
Given the multiplicity of functions in a telemedicine app, it could cost a lot of money to build one. However, this also depends on the functionality, concept, and prognosed user base of the app. Typically, you could spend around $50,000-$80,000 to build a telemedicine app.
One last piece of advice to help lower the cost of app development and avoid pitfalls is to create a click-through prototype first. You can check out this video to learn more about that process:
This cost includes the cost of building the patient frontend, the doctor app, and the admin backend for all the platforms on which the app would work (iOS or Android). Generally, the more complex a telemedicine service is, the more expensive the app development process. The cost will also vary based on whether your telemedicine app may use some ready-to-deploy components like, say, Agora.ai for video calling.
Before setting the budget, it helps to define your target audience and specific problems that the app will solve, develop a business plan and determine the scope of the development process. Get in touch if you need advice in getting your HIPAA-compliant telemedicine app out to patients and providers in a timely manner.
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