Why Develop Custom Telehealth Solutions in 2021?

Semen Petrenko
Semen Petrenko (CEO at Fruitful Code) 27 June, 2021
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Custom telehealth solutions

Video consultations, SMS prescriptions, and remote diagnostics - these became the new normal in 2020. COVID-19 has changed the world and healthcare once and for all.

Today, 46% of US consumers use telehealth (compared to 11% in 2019); more than 75% of physicians report that telehealth helped them provide better care for their patients. The numbers don’t lie; they only demonstrate that while everyone is hyped with the opportunities of custom telehealth solutions, it is just the right time to consider how to build a telemedicine system.

Read on to learn more about telehealth, its projected development, and the possibilities of telehealth development this year.

Table of Contents

What is the difference between telehealth and telemedicine?

Before talking about custom telehealth solutions, one needs to understand the difference between the close concepts of telehealth and telemedicine. Any telemedicine element is a part of telehealth practices, but not vice versa. To put it into context, let’s dot the I’s.

Telemedicine includes all practices related to the clinical duties, such as consultation of a surgeon or a follow-up visit with a dermatologist. Telemedicine is the direct descendant of in-office doctor visits. Telehealth, on the other hand, has a much broader scope.

For instance, all clinical elements of telemedicine are a part of telehealth; however, it also includes bureaucratic processes related to healthcare: hospital administration, workshops conduction, or even supply management of the internal pharmacies.

By definition from the Health Resources Services Administration, telehealth is the use of any electronic information and technologies in support of long-distance health care, public health, patient/professional health-related education, and health administration. The technologies used in digital telehealth solutions include:

  • Internet
  • Videoconferencing
  • Video streaming
  • Wireless communication
  • Terrestrial communication
  • Store-and-forward imaging

Telehealth market transformation in 2021

Before

It is no secret that 2020 and the COVID-19 outbreak became the turning point for healthcare telemedicine solutions.

Before 2020, in the US, only patients in rural and remote areas had access to medicine, and in 2018, these were only 21.5% of Medicare beneficiaries. African countries suffered from the lack of telecommunication equipment to implement telehealth practices. While working towards the adoption of new technologies, Asia generally came to the telemedicine processes only around 2018 (except for Kazakhstan that launched the “Development of telemedicine in rural health care” project back in 2005). Latin America started introducing the new technologies back in 2006 (Brazil), yet the adoption was still going too slow to accommodate the increasing need for remote healthcare. The US, Australasia, Europe – all these developed regions also had a close-to-no focus on telemedicine before the pandemic hit the world in 2019.

Such lack of readiness and infancy of telemedical services worldwide caused major healthcare problems when the deadly virus penetrated most countries. It was 2019-2020 when the telehealth app development peaked throughout the globe, transforming the attitude and use of modern technologies in healthcare.

Now

In 2021, every healthcare facility (from large systems to solo practitioners) aims to conduct its services virtually. The global telehealth market is expected to reach $80.53 billion this year, which is a decline from $83.08 billion in 2020. The stabilization of the peaking industry easily explains the -3.06% decline in a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in the year before. However, the demand for telehealth services will continue to evolve and grow, promising the $218.5 billion industry in 2025 at a CAGR of 28.34%.

National governments also play a vital role in telehealth development. The US government funds hospitals and individuals willing to establish telehealth solutions in their practice. A mobile app development team can even apply for federal grants in order to advance their startup for the country’s good. Germany adopted the Digital Healthcare Act before the COVID crisis, and today it helps to introduce new solutions, applications, platforms, and devices to the market within a 3-month timeframe. Mongolia launched a telemedicine program to support neonatal and maternal health. There are many other examples of successful implementation and state support for telehealth initiatives.

Many countries continue to focus on evolving and maintaining virtual healthcare due to several benefits:

  • Increased accessibility to healthcare
  • Efficient means for tertiary care
  • Earlier diagnostics
  • Improved quality of life
  • Reduced need for patient transfers
  • Augmentation of professional support for distant areas
  • Better communication among healthcare professionals
  • Professional learning

Future

The future state of telehealth will probably show a less impressive income percentage increase; yet, the demand for this service will continue to grow. Even today, 74% of responders are open to telehealth, and 66% agree to use telehealth for common issues and follow-up visits. 79% of patients are satisfied with their telehealth services. All these statistics build a promising future from the patient’s perspective.

For service providers, the upcoming years will be a path for improvement and fight with the currently existing challenges, such as data security, payment processing, vendors, and education of elderly patients. The good news is that until there are things to improve, the market will remain an evolving and competitive field for new telehealth software, opening doors for the young companies.

Telehealth solutions: off-the-shelf vs. custom

Now that we have already discussed how telehealth is shaping the future of healthcare, it is no wonder that new digital telehealth solutions grow tremendously fast. Companies, practitioners, private clinics, governmental bodies – all of them are trying to adjust to the new normal through the apps, platforms, and other means of remote healthcare and health administration.

Frequently, the question about the difference and benefits of ready-made telehealth solution providers and custom web app development services becomes a challenge. So without further ado, let’s review the features of the current offers and advantages of tailored solutions.

Ready-made telehealth software

The existing buy-and-use solutions have a wide range of telemedical services on offer:

  • Video calls
  • Patient monitoring systems
  • EHR management tools
  • Prescription writing/issuing
  • Test analysis

In fact, a healthcare worker can find an application or extension for every medical service. Some solutions would be better, some would be free, some will be extensive, while others are limited in functionality.

The main problem here is that ready-made software often targets a particular step/process in the telehealth procedures. As a result, hospitals and caretakers end up using a number of extra digital tools in order to see a patient and provide the initial care.

The pricing initiated by such telemedicine solution providers is frequently tricky. The catch is in the original price – it is relatively low and looks like an attractive offer. However, over time, when you realize that you need more than a basic package, you will pay quite a fortune to receive the solution you actually require.

The figure below shows how the study by Topflight Apps projected the cost of ownership for custom vs. off-the-shelf telemedicine applications could vary over time growing at a reasonable pace.

custom vs off-the-shelf telemedicine app costs

This image is taken from https://topflightapps.com/ideas/buy-or-build-telehealth-solution/

The customization of features in the existing solutions is also limited. For instance, most current CMS telehealth services have no option to add one’s own branding, which means that patients will have to use an external solution to contact doctors. Besides, the set of features is also pre-determined; this frequently results in overpaying for the system elements that your staff would not use.

The main benefit is that a ready-made solution is available right away. All you need is to buy a license, get training, and you are good to go. This significant advantage often works for healthcare business people since it gives them temporary relief. But just like aspirin does not help stave off migraines in the long run, off-the-shelf solutions cannot hold up to business expectations for long.

Custom telehealth solutions

Custom healthcare app development has a wide range of advantages over ready-made solutions.

But before we get into specifics, it is worth focusing on the cost of such solutions. A basic application can cost anywhere between $15,000 and $150,000, depending on the features and scope of functionalities you need to have. On average, the price of such telehealth software can be broken into $10,000 for discovery, about $12,000 for proof of concept, and $15,000 for an MVP.

To clarify the difference with the ready-made solution, just consider that only video calls would cost you $10,000 while text chats feature another $10,000. The price difference is almost absent between the two, while the benefits of customized apps are vivid.

  • Flexibility.

    While working with a custom web development company, you set the required features, accept the UI, select the user roles and level of software customization according to your staff needs. Customized solutions can give you the freedom and comfort of getting exactly what you need and when you need it. For instance, if currently you do not have time or budget for a feature, you can always agree with telehealth solution providers that they build the proper infrastructure for the future development of a new option.

  • User Experience.

    Patients would not come back if a telehealth solution is uncomfortable to use, hard to learn, or visually not appealing. With a customized application, you have the power to control UX flow in your solution and adjust its UI to your patients’ needs. You can even opt for special-needs features like speech recognition or specific design for visually impaired patients. Every telehealth app development team focuses on creating user-centric solutions to get you ahead of competitors.

  • Security.

    In 2020, 636 cases of personal data breaches were recorded  in the healthcare industry. While developing your own solution, you can ensure that your patients’ information is collected, stored, and handled safely in the cloud with proper encryption. Every security breach is a hit to your reputation and hence patients flow. Get the level of safety you and your patients deserve because a small mistake might become a disaster.

  • Integrations.

    Seamless incorporation of a new system into the existing processes and legacy software is always a challenge, especially for not tech-savvy people. Custom telehealth solutions are developed to meet your business goals and slide into your daily operations smoothly. The development team can ensure that the new application or software matches your current process. Moreover, further development and additional external services and integrated features are significantly easier with a dedicated team, rather than personal clicking through the ready-made templates and offered services.

When to choose what?

There is no simple answer to this question since both ready-made and custom CMS telehealth services have their pros and cons. The rule is generally simple – if you have enough time and budget to create a custom solution, go for it. The benefits of a tailored application that fits into your current system without much effort are obvious.

However, whenever you need a new telehealth application for a particular task and have no time to wait or shop around, go with a ready-made service. You can start a free trial or purchase a limited subscription to get the business running and, in the meantime, explore your options.

How to build a telemedicine system

The development of custom telehealth solutions should always be built with the user-centric approach. You need to consider why patients and medical personnel choose telehealth applications and software and make them an even better offer.

So before we get to the features, let’s review what users need to have in your new telehealth software.

For patients:

  1. Convenience of service
  2. Accessibility
  3. Lower exposure to COVID-19
  4. Feeling of complete attention from a doctor
  5. Time saving
  6. More affordable service

For medical workers:

  1. Better access to patients
  2. Work-life balance due to easier scheduling
  3. Patient attraction and retention
  4. Reduced time on visits
  5. All-in-one solution for patient management

Top considerations when working on a custom telehealth system

Even though virtual medical care has been here for at least a decade, telehealth solution providers still face a wide range of complications related to remote healthcare.

Whenever you are working on a new application or software, ensure that you account for those challenges and address them effectively.

  1. Reimbursement is one of the top challenges for complete adaptation of telehealth by hospitals and individual practitioners. About 70% of medical personnel reported having challenges with partial or no payment for the virtual practice. As mentioned before, governments are working on the laws and regulations to facilitate the payments. But for a telehealth app development team, it is essential to consider a wide range of payment options in the solution as well as broad integration with governmental and banking structures to secure fair payment to medical staff.
  2. Detached data of EHS from new healthcare telemedicine solutions is unacceptable. It is one of the worst challenges telemedicine is facing today. The future of medicine should be comfortable and accessible, so new CMS telehealth services also need to become all-in-one solutions to the caregivers. The same issue applies to the data collected by various solutions during the visits. Your application needs to have a clear connection with the country’s medical system to guarantee that every patient-doctor encounter gets recorded and then filed correctly for future visits with other specialists.
  3. Complexity is never a friend to telehealth solution providers since the most vulnerable group of patients aged 65+ might not possess the required technical skills to use a newly-developed solution. For this reason, every healthcare web development company needs to simplify solution UI while also including the must-have features into an app. It is a challenging task, no arguing here, but this is the only guarantee that your solution is well-adopted and actually used.
  4. Security concerns about data protection and personal information leaks remain the top ones among patients and doctors. To provide the required level of data protection, you should implement MFA and biometric identification, application encryption, and auto log-offs after prolonged inactivity. It is also essential that the solution complies with the local laws in terms of medical records security. For example, EU-based applications must comply with the Data Protection Directive 1995/46/EC and the e-Privacy Directive 2002/58/EC; the US developers need to read HIPAA for medical professionals while in Australia,  Privacy Act 1988 must be observed.
  5. Scalability of newly developed telehealth software is a must, especially if you plan to expand it worldwide. The more users you acquire, the stronger and more stable your application needs to get. Carefully plan the architecture since custom telehealth is here to stay.

Core features of an effective telehealth platform

There are some obligatory and nice-to-have features that every telehealth solution needs to have. If you do not know what features to include, then market research and investigation of the competition can be the best way to understand what your potential customers expect to have.

We have gone through the most popular custom telehealth solutions in the market to collect the must-have and nice-to-have features. Please, note that we do not insist that you include all of them in your new solution. But this section can be a good place to start your investigation.

Must-have features
  1. Registration.

    Consider integration with Google for SSO but keep in mind MFA practices. Make it straightforward and simple but remember about the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy notices as well as insurance information of the user.

  2. Dashboard.

    It must contain an overview of the user’s activities. For patients, these would be test results, upcoming meetings, and reports on past appointments. For medical workers, you can tailor the views for each role, but the minimum needs to include their schedule and shortcut to the patients’ data.

  3. User profile.

    Patients need to see profiles of doctors and vice versa. Besides, every user must have the option to change their personal data. Email change should be available right away, while modification of documents needs to have some verification period.

  4. Search.

    Search for the closest or available expert by location, date, practice type, and name is a must. The nice-to-have feature can be a map or integration with Google Maps in this case.

  5. Geolocation.

    Many countries prohibit the obligatory collection of patient’s geolocation. So while this feature is essential, especially for IC telehealth solutions, it cannot be compulsory for users.

  6. Booking.

    Related to search and geolocation, booking should be simple – two taps or clicks, and the appointment is booked. Do not go into details here, just date, time, specialist, and their name. It is the absolute minimum.

  7. Text messaging.

    In-app messaging is a must. A straightforward messenger similar to Messenger or Telegram with additional options to send images and video files is essential for diagnostics.

  8. Video and audio calls.

    While it might not be a must-have feature, for now, it definitely is if you are planning to stay in the market. The calls can work as an on-demand or pre-scheduled feature; it depends on the logic of your solution. In any case, remember to protect and encrypt all information shared by patients and doctors within your application.

  9. Prescriptions.

    This is another complicated but absolutely essential element of custom healthcare app development. It would be perfect if a prescription could be available directly from your solution, and the country’s pharmacies could just scan an in-app QR code to collect the prescription details. However, if such a system is not yet available on the state level, consider at least sending the prescription to the patient’s email or phone number via SMS.

  10. Payments.

    Not all patients have insurance, and not all countries have insurance covers. So it is essential that a patient can pay for such remote assistance in person. Integrate card payments and consider even online payment systems like PayPal or Pioneer for maximized user comfort.

  11. Reviews.

    This feature helps patients select doctors and navigate through the offers. It also keeps the level of service high since medical workers know they get some evaluation. Allow users to rate their doctors and leave text reviews about their service to facilitate the use of the service in total.

Nice-to-have features

The list of nice-to-haves is literally unlimited. Every patient may have their own feature of choice, and every physician or medical expert would love to get some additional information on the patients, their tests, or previous appointments. Nonetheless, here is what we offer:

  • Production of  clinical documentation
  • Support of legacy devices (older medical equipment and phones/laptops)
  • Integration of peripheral medical equipment (pulsometer, glucometer, etc.)
  • EMR exchange
  • Access to statistical data related to a patient’s disease
  • Access to entire medical history
  • Access to lab results
  • Browser-based functioning (without the need to install the software)
  • Customization of workflows for different specialists

The bottom line

The prospective growth of the telehealth market promises a bright and profitable future for telemedicine solution providers. The exponential revenue growth and increasing interest of all states and peoples confirm that the investment into this industry will continue for many years to come, opening a wide range of opportunities to startups and young companies. If you are looking for a place to start, here it is.

Now you know why 2021 is the best year to get into the market and what components to consider for your new application. Should you have any questions, doubts, concerns, or need advice, drop us a line, and our specialists will be happy to answer all your questions.

We are ready for the telehealth of the future, are you?

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