A 2018 RockHealth survey showed that 75 per cent of adult consumers in the US have adopted telemedicine channels. The usage of live video chats in remote care has significantly increased from 7 to 34 per cent in just three years. Furthermore, telemedicine tools are at the fore of the new patient-centric care model practised and promoted by the so-called next-generation payers and providers − insurers and healthcare institutions with technology-driven strategies and innovative approaches to health.
Doctor On Demand is among the most popular telehealth apps in the US. Users can book virtual appointments with certified physicians and psychologists and then rate their experience. Chronic care, urgent care, behavioural health, and preventive health are the four categories the app encompasses. MDLIVE, PlushCare, Teladoc are similar applications with an already strong user base.
There are other, more specific, areas of telemedicine app development. For instance, mental health apps with video chat function, such as TalkSpace are becoming quite popular. The Lemonaid app offers virtual consultations, prescriptions, and provides pharmaceutical deliveries.
Telemedicine software solutions remove the hassle of long waiting times and make way for the more affordable and flexible healthcare services patients want. For doctors, telehealth solutions offer more control over their schedules.
Telehealth is two-way, face-to-face communication that allows patients to get specialist care from anywhere and via a device of their choice. This can involve scheduled meetings between patient and provider and provisions for on-demand visits in cases of acute care.
Current phone-based telehealth services are giving way to doctor-on-demand app development with video communication. As American Well’s Chief Medical Officer puts it, video is the most robust medium for practising telehealth because it affords physicians the ability to examine physical and behavioural factors.
In the broader context, there are three common types of telemedicine:
We described many key health app features in our post on the cost of healthcare app development. Now, let’s explore which technologies you need to launch a telemedicine application.
Accessing patient data and updating it after each virtual visit is crucial for a telemedicine app. You will need to integrate EHR systems and HealthKit or Google Fit into your application.
Electronic health records collect all data related to the patient’s condition and therefore give a broader overview which completes the virtual examination. HealthKit or Google Fit are important tools for tracking health essentials and spotting changes in parameters.
Note that if your app deals with medical records from multiple providers, it will take more time and effort to unify the data.
Secure messaging is a major component of any telemedicine solution. There can be options for real-time chat, audio calls, and video conferences. Enabling file exchange is also a good idea.
There are providers that offer various APIs to integrate all these communication channels (such as Twilio and its alternatives) but they aren’t ideal for healthcare. To make a secure chat function that is compliant with national regulations, opt for solutions with point-to-point encryption, on-device message encryption, two-factor authentication, and other up-to-date security measures. The Signal protocol is currently the most secure for communication and at MadAppGang, we built a messaging platform, Strongbox, based on it.
Developing a voice assistant can make the process of searching for and booking with practitioners even easier. Since telehealth is currently poorly adopted by seniors, adding technologies that facilitate the process will increase the potential for remote consultations with the elderly. According to an American Well consumer survey, only one per cent of US adults over 65 are using telehealth but 52 per cent are willing to use it.
There are numerous ways to implement artificial intelligence in telemedicine. Many popular applications already use AI and machine learning technologies. These tools offer possible prescription choices based on patient data (Lemonaid); recommend treatment options to cancer patients (InfiniteMD); and help identify potential illnesses (HealthTap).
Respondents in an Accenture survey showed their willingness to use AI-powered services for multiple reasons. More than half of all participants stated they would use such tools to get information after hours, analyse medical records, seek advice on lifestyle habits and illnesses, and diagnose symptoms.
Let’s discover the features you will need to implement in your telehealth application. To begin with, you’ll have to develop two programs, one for patients and one for doctors. Both versions will have several similar features:
There are some patients-specific functions:
And some doctor-specific functions:
Depending on the purpose of your app, you can develop additional features, such as:
Like any other part of healthcare app development, telehealth faces numerous regulatory requirements, the need to provide strong credibility, and suffers from a lack of user-friendly solutions, to name just a few issues. The summary of a workshop held by The Health Resources and Service Administration in 2012 identifies the following challenges in telemedicine:
We’d like to add a couple more:
All the above-mentioned issues are applicable to the situation in 2019. Complying with regulations, establishing credibility, and making a service that actually solves users’ problems are still barriers hindering telehealth’s global success. The example of the US shows that the rapid expansion of telemedicine triggers new issues because different states have different legislature regarding the type of telehealth, consent agreements, and payment processes.
There are some initiatives that train medical students to understand the benefits and dangers of telehealth and in the 2017-2018 school year, about 60 per cent of American medical schools included a telemedicine course. Given that this percentage of clinicians clearly understand the capabilities of virtual examinations and are aware of privacy concerns, such initiatives could be widely embraced.
To shape a business model for your app, you need to understand what value (economic and social) it brings users. The common objective behind any telehealth service is reduced costs. However, not every research paper confirms remote visits are less expensive, for example, a 2017 Rand study revealed that annual spending on acute respiratory illness increased by $45 per user. You have to offer maximum transparency when explaining to patients how much they will pay for certain services.
Apart from reduced costs, the value proposition for a telehealth app can include:
This is not a complete list and you will no doubt come up with different ideas based on your particular application.
As for business models, telehealth apps generally charge per virtual visit, sometimes even per minute of communication and earn money by taking a percentage of each payment. However, there could be yearly and monthly membership plans for both doctors and patients, which would vary in cost depending on the number of completed consultations.
Doctor on Demand, for example, charges a 25 per cent fee from each paid consultation and offers its service to businesses. Companies can use Doctor on Demand software and pay an established fee per employee per month. MDLIVE also has a per-visit rate ($75) and a software package for businesses. Teladoc utilises another pricing model and charges subscription fees to insurers ($0.45 per member per month) and per-visit fees for patients ($45). Many similar apps offer different prices for the first visit and subsequent visits, for instance, $99 and $69 respectively in PlushCare.
There are interesting cases showing how companies can increase their value with the help of patient-generated data. The Australian remote monitoring tool ResMed, which analyses sleep patterns, offered paid subscriptions in return for users’ gathered data. Based on these subscriptions and the sleep reports generated, the company collected lots of valuable patient information.
Telemedicine applications can also provide a paid option whereby featured healthcare listings are highlighted and thus more likely to attract patients. Or, they can partner with relevant services for in-app advertising. After all, every segment of the industry can be a source of revenue for doctor-on-demand apps including patients, providers, insurers, and enterprises.
If you’re ready to start your telehealth app development, feel free to contact us. The MadAppGang team has worked on several respected health-related applications and can guide you through both the healthcare app market and the development process.
10 December 2019
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