Modern medicine could use some help from remote patient monitoring apps (aka RPM apps). An app that allows doctors to monitor patients remotely and keep track of their vitals is an enormously compelling option in the times when healthcare services are in such strong demand, and hospital stay costs continue to skyrocket.
So it’s no surprise that both incumbents and startups are quite active in this space. Jump to the footer to glimpse the investment potential of an RPM startup or keep reading to learn how to develop a powerful remote patient monitoring app.
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Types of Remote Patient Monitoring Apps
The primary function of an RPM app is to bring together a doctor and a patient so that the doctor can provide medical advice to the patient based on the patient’s health data collected through the same medical app. What are some of the most common types of remote patient monitoring apps out there?
IoT medical apps
IoT patient monitoring apps gather patient data from wearables, various smart sensors, health trackers, and send them off to clinic personnel. This market of health monitoring gadgets is constantly growing. Therefore you must pick hardware that’s easy to connect to your RPM app (read: elaborate documentation for app developers and off-the-shelf SDK and API kits).
Remote patient monitoring apps that gather patient data through a series of questions are also quite popular and require less effort than most IoT medical apps, as no integration with sensors or other medical devices is required.
Telehealth remote monitoring apps provide users with an option for video calls — a perfect opportunity to have a medical examination in the comfort of your home. Despite its visual simplicity — a regular telehealth app doesn’t look much different from FaceTime — the telehealth functionality involves some serious backend development.
Precision medicine apps
This type of remote patient monitoring apps includes medical apps that collect massive amounts of anonymous patient data for research purposes. A vibrant example is Apple’s new health studies that the company has recently launched on the back of the latest Apple Watch series. With such apps, there’s no interaction between doctors and patients.
Key Aspects of a Remote Patient Monitoring App
To develop an RPM app that offers improved outcomes and drives down the cost of healthcare services, you really need to ponder these key elements:
- how the app will collect patient data
- how it will present the data to doctors and patients
- how the monitoring app will allow for doctor-patient interactions
- how your medical app will interface with patients
Patient data sources
As we’ve mentioned, RPM apps focus on collecting patients’ health data. iOS apps rely on HealthKit (plus ResearchKit & CareKit) while Android apps lean on Google Fit to get such data as heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, weight, height, activity data, as well as clinical records. Note that HealthKit and Google Fit get most of the real-time vitals from wearables and smart sensors.
Another alternative is to source patient data from dedicated providers like Human API or Validic that provide a simple way to view and share patient health data from everywhere via secure APIs.
Yet another approach is to use a Bluetooth or direct Wi-Fi connection and pull vital signals into the monitoring app directly from wearables (like FitBit), sensors (like DermaSensor), or accessories and medical devices (like a smart pillbox).
Integration with hospitals
The next logical step for a remote patient monitoring app is to transfer patient data to doctors, so they can assess the progress or deterioration of the patient’s condition and provide guidance. A remote patient tracking app would need a secure API to connect to a clinic’s EHR/EMR system, adhering to such healthcare standards as HL7 and FHIR.
Note that FHIR is gaining more popularity with healthcare app developers as it allows them to work with EHRs using a modern tech stack. And in case you’d opt to work with Epic’s health record system, there’s an open sandbox — Epic USCDI on FHIR — that’s available for development and testing purposes.
Presenting data to patients
Besides serving patient health data to a hospital, a monitoring app should motivate patients to keep using it by visualizing the data they are submitting. For instance, we added a health graph in a smart symptom tracker app we developed. The graph allows patients to toggle displays based on time or symptom granularity (e.g., the severity of all pain symptoms vs. severity of headaches).
Video conference calls are a welcome feature in many remote patient monitoring apps. It can be rather costly when developed from scratch, but that’s probably true of any feature in an RPM app.
We prefer to stick with proven video conferencing SDKs that work cross-platform so that you can integrate telehealth with both iOS and Android apps: SendBird (HIPAA and GDPR compliance; plus ISO27001 & SOC2 Type 2) or Virgil Security with full end-to-end encryption (E2EE) security. Plus, these tools support real-time text chats.
Machine learning and AI capabilities in a remote patient monitoring app may seem like yet another layer, distancing doctors from patients. But in reality, the technology makes their interactions more efficient: AI with 24-hour access to real-time patient vitals can predict illness deterioration and schedule an appointment.
Modern AI features in patient monitoring apps vary from face recognition to ECG analysis to “simple” algorithms, like a regression formula in one of the remote patient monitoring apps we developed.
As you’d expect, timely notifications about a patient’s health are one of the critical aspects of a remote care app. What’s important, notifications should be available in sync for both parties (doctors and patients) on the appropriate platforms. Patients get notified on a mobile app, while doctors may get emails and text messages along with updates in their cloud application. Note that to comply with HIPAA, user notifications must not include PHI.
Remote Patient Monitoring App Development Best Practices
Apply patient-centric UX & UI
The first challenge you’ll face when developing a remote patient monitoring app will be the patient. Are there some limitations to how they can use the app? Do you need the accessibility SDK in the app to make it more comprehensible to all groups of patients? These and many similar questions will invariably pop up as you move through the UX & UI design phase of RPM app development.
- Use a clean UI with few interactive elements
- Make the touch areas big enough for comfortable use from any position
- Include a lock screen widget to ease data entry
Go easy on battery and memory consumption
Your app must keep running without draining your smartphone’s battery too much. The patient data stream should never be interrupted, and so using available technology to decrease battery and memory consumption will always pay off.
- Use BLE to connect to wearables or other health trackers
- Make sure to notify the user when the connection is lost
- Implement a dark mode for the app to consume less energy when in the foreground
Provision against connectivity issues
Another pitfall to avoid is the loss of internet connection. How do you notify the user? How do you not lose all the data that’s being gathered while there’s no internet connectivity?
- Build in a caching mechanism, so all health data is kept in the remote patient monitoring app until the connectivity comes back and the app syncs it to the cloud. Use tools like PINCache or NSURLCache for iOS and OkHttpClient for Android, or pick a platform like Firebase that supports caching out-of-the-box.
- Implement local notifications that work at specified intervals so that your RPM app does not depend on a server. In this case, the app will fire up a notification based on a timer, without any server interactions, even if it’s not currently running.
Make the app location-aware
Sometimes it makes sense to add the geolocation feature into such apps to make them location-aware. In one of our projects we integrated a geo-fencing capability into the iFaint app that (among other things) determines user location and prompts the user to complete a survey if they are near a hospital. Apple Maps, Google Maps, or Mapbox are all excellent tools for making a remote patient monitoring app location-aware.
Strategize for security and compliance
The only reason we don’t have security and compliance first in this list is that these attributes go with any healthcare app by default if it wants to make it to patients and doctors in the end. HIPAA compliance, HL7 and HFIR adherence, FDA clearance — all of these should be on your list when developing a remote patient monitoring app.
And don’t forget about the IEC 62304 standard if you’re planning to hook the app to a sensor, health tracker, or other monitoring medical device.
Experiment with alternative interfaces
Another viable option for this group of apps is enabling a voice interface, such as Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa, or IBM’s Watson Assistant. Many patients will appreciate the convenience of adding data to their remote patient monitoring apps with a simple voice command. Consider playing back the health data to the patient and ask for a confirmation before writing it to the app’s database.
Let’s Build Your Remote Patient Monitoring App
Hopefully, our advice will help you build a better remote patient monitoring app. The one that will attack the gargantuan economic waste in modern medicine by reducing operational costs and bringing doctors, researchers, patients, and research participants closer to each other.
Many remote patient monitoring startups are already working on this:
Let’s go through your remote patient monitoring app concept to make sure it follows the industry best practices and brings real value to your users and organization as the market shifts toward fully remote care. Schedule a free consolutation with a technical advisor.