Developing a Telemedicine App: How to Overcome Challenges

The size of the global telemedicine market is anticipated to evolve at a CAGR of 16.8% and reach USD 56738.3 Million by 2023.

Source: Real Time Touch

Launching a telemedicine app has the potential to be a step forward in this industry and a revolutionary offering for many medical practitioners.

But despite a telemedicine app’s potential to revolutionize the way patients interact with a healthcare facility, one needs to consider crucial challenges faced during development of a telemedicine app. 

In this piece, we will be looking at a few common challenges faced when developing a telemedicine app or a platform and how to overcome them to develop a highly functional app that is beneficial to both the patients as well as the healthcare providers.

1. Data Security and Encryption

The security of healthcare data is of paramount importance when developing a telemedicine app. HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) policies make the whole process all the more demanding since these policies abide by stringent rules and have huge repercussions in case of negligence and violations. 

The HIPAA Privacy Rule sets standards for protection of individuals’ medical records in healthcare systems including telemedicine, which makes compliance to HIPAA security rules a prime concern among app developers. 

When developing telemedicine apps, it is crucial to understand what different types of information comes under HIPAA. 

The very first thing an app developer needs to decide is if your telemedicine app is going to collect, store or transmit protected health information (PHI) which is regulated by HIPAA rules. PHI accounts for any information in a medical record that can be used to trace an individual including: medical records, billing information, health insurance information, or any individually identifiable health information. 

Telehealth providers that are going to deal with PHI necessarily need to be HIPAA compliant, even if they simply plan on interacting or exchanging information with covered entities. 

On the other hand, if a telehealth provider is getting an application developed to track, manage or store information that doesn’t come under the PHI category, or isn’t going to share the information with a covered entity, the company doesn’t have to be HIPAA compliant.

To make your telemedicine app HIPAA compliant, you need to follow these four rules:

1) Privacy rule

2) Security rule

3) Enforcement rule

4) Breach notification rule

The main rule for any developer who works on telemedicine applications happens to be the security rule, which describes physical and technical safeguards that need to be taken into account.

To create a secure app that’s fully HIPAA compliant, using reliable providers, a set of technical tools like libraries and third-party services isn’t enough. You need not only to encrypt the data in the software you develop but also make sure that it can’t be accessed if the server or device is physically compromised. Provide highly encrypted and secure video conferencing and communication services.

Remember to assess how much information you actually need for your app to operate and bring value to your users. HIPAA compliant apps don’t collect any information that isn’t necessary; if yours does, you’ll be spending resources on protecting the information you don’t actually need.

Related: 3 Telemedicine Types for Every Healthcare Organization

2. Functionality and User Flows

Next up, we look at the challenges faced while deciding upon the functionality and user flows of a telemedicine app. 

A classic telemedicine app development solution usually consists of three distinct but interconnected parts – doctor app, patient app, and a complex admin panel.

A. Patient-Related Features in Telemedicine Apps

1) Registration – Since telemedicine apps deal with sensitive data, they require a higher level of protection. The recommendation here would be to use two-factor authentication, which can include voice, SMS, and phone verification.

2) Patient profile – at this point, a patient is required to enter necessary healthcare records and other compulsory information. Make this procedure as easy and quick as possible. Nobody likes to fill out long forms.

3) Search – a patient can search for a healthcare specialist based on one or more criteria (proximity, doctor rating, specialization, etc.). A general advice for the first app version would be to limit search entities.

4) Calendar and Appointments – patients need to be provided with a list of appointments based on their preferred doctor’s availability, as well as the possibility to cancel or edit them quickly.

5) Communication – the process can be carried out through video or audio conferencing for real-time consultation. For the first version in telemedicine app development, it is recommended to come up with an uncomplicated format (e.g. photo-based consultation for dermatologists).

6) Geolocation – patients should be able to easily connect with healthcare practitioners having a valid license in a particular US state. The app should be able to gather details related to their location with the help of Google Maps or similar navigation tools.

7) Payment – telemedicine app monetization should support at least 3-4 different payment methods ( eg: payment gateways, credit and debit cards, internet banking) . The patient should also be able to track their transaction history.

8) Notifications – push notifications and relevant reminders can be embedded within the app since these features help keep track of appointments.

The patient app can also include some extra features like: personalized dashboard, medication tracking, secure chats, in-app calls, navigation, cloud data storage, patient’s insurance plan, etc.

B. Telemedicine App Features for Doctors

As far as telemedicine apps for doctors are concerned, certain functionalities completely  correlate with the patient app. However, there are some specific features that should be implemented in this part of a telemedicine solution.

These include:

1) Doctor profile – practitioners should fill out accurate information about their experience, specialization, education, etc. It is possible that patients might like to check their license and proof of medical capabilities.

2) Scheduling and calendar – doctors should be provided with features wherein they can receive consultation requests, set their availability, approve the appointment requests and manage their appointments.

3) Communication – the doctor-patient interaction should be identical. In the first version of the app, it is better to use consultation based on photos or one-to-one messenger. If you have an extravagant budget, the best choice is to implement video conferencing for more detailed examinations. 

4) EHR review – doctors need to be able to access patient profiles, hospital databases, preliminary-filled questionnaires, or other methods that will make it easier for them to retrieve a patient’s records.

Other useful features that the telemedicine app for doctors could include are: digital prescriptions, video or audio session recording, dashboard or analytics, pharmacy databases, specialist consultations and referrals etc.

C. Features for the Admin Panel of the Telemedicine App

A telemedicine admin panel enables you to manage all processes within your app. It provides you with access to your users’ profiles, necessary data, and all the tools you use to monetize your app. 

These features should definitely be present in your admin panel:

1) Personal profiles – Each administrator needs a profile in the admin panel. This will let you see who made changes, and create different levels of access to protect data and keep control over particular features.

2) Doctor Profile Management – An admin should be able to view and manage doctors’ profiles right in the admin panel of the app. This includes everything right from having access to all of a doctor’s previous activity, deleting an account if a doctor violates policies, and editing information in a doctor’s profile at the request of a support center.

3) Patient Profile Management – Just like in the case of doctors, an admin also needs to be given control to view and edit the information in patient profiles. This includes: having access to their medical information, payment history, activity, etc.

4) Analytics – With analytics inside the admin panel, one can know at all times what’s going on within the app from both the technical and marketing standpoints- right from keeping track of how many people have downloaded the app to how many have signed up for the service. 

5) Notification Management – With this feature, push notifications can easily be sent to both patients and doctors to inform them about upcoming appointments, updates to policies, special offers, etc. Users can also be grouped according to their activities, demographics, or other parameters to send targeted notifications.

6) Integration with EHR Systems – Integrate the app’s admin panel with an electronic health records system. This will enable admins to view the latest updates to a patient’s health records in case there are any questions or concerns.

This gets us to our next point.

Related: 5 Best Telemedicine Apps of 2020

3. Back-end Infrastructure

The most vital components of your telemedicine app – the back end – is responsible for your app’s security, speed, payments, and all other features inside it. It also gives you control over all the processes inside your app.

Backend infrastructure usually consists of technologies, a software architecture, and third-party components. Because telemedicine is based on video conferencing and chats, it’s critical you choose the right network type, codecs, transmission protocols, databases, bandwidth, and more.

Third-party libraries for features like payments also demand attention. Your web developers should thoroughly examine the documentation and ensure the solutions they opt for, are compatible and secure with your complete infrastructure.

One important tip here would be to try and use Backend-as-a-Service that’s already HIPAA compliant. It’s an excellent option for MVP: a HIPAA compliant backend for healthcare companies allows you to test your service often and save time on development.

Like we all know, the backend consists of four parts: a database, a framework, a server, and an admin panel.

Database

MongoDB is a very quick database for making active changes to data. It generally works in combination with another database that’s slower but has a greater storage capacity.

PostgreSQL is a compound database for software that requires additional abilities and needs non-standard solutions.

MySQL is one of the finest databases out there: it’s productive, functional, and encompasses almost everything a telemedicine app might need to kill the stereotypes.

Two additional tools you might need are Memcached and Redis. These are caching tools that help to free up the database of any pressure by storing some data in the system’s RAM. This enables the system to retrieve this data faster without having to send a request to the database.

Framework

Frameworks are language-dependent. Here we’ll talk about frameworks written in Python,  PHP, and Ruby, which are the most widely used backend languages.

PHP frameworks – Symfony, Laravel and Zend are the most advanced frameworks for PHP. Symfony provides  many off-the-shelf solutions for admin panels and other functionality. However, Zend and Laravel are also great options for telemedicine app development.

Python frameworks – Django owns an admin panel by itself, so you won’t have to combine a third-party component alongside it. Python is a great language to work with if you plan on integrating big data or AI.

Ruby framework Ruby on Rails is an advanced framework with lots of ready solutions. However, its lack of support makes it a bit harder to use. Ruby is a good option for big telemedicine projects with lots of functionality.

Server

When it comes to servers, you can choose either a dedicated server or a cloud server. A dedicated server is a separate physical machine that you rent. A cloud server is a virtual server that consists of virtual storage on different physical servers.

Choosing HIPAA compliant Cloud servers is advisable for telemedicine since you’ll be able to scale your storage quickly, and they’re just easier to set up. For highly sensitive information, you can have an additional dedicated server or buy your own hardware.

As for the admin panel, we’ve already discussed it on length in the previous section.

4. UI/UX Implementation

One of the biggest technical challenges for your software engineering team is going to be that of achieving great UI/UX implementation, as one part of the app will be for doctors and the other for patients, like we’ve discussed earlier.

They will have divergent technical feasibilities, functionality, and user interfaces.

According to one recent research by Accenture, healthcare providers with apps are failing to engage consumers through mobile means for two reasons: poor user experience and poor functionality. 

Without in-depth understanding of your target users’ psychological underpinnings or in-app behavior patterns, you won’t be able to forge a service that exceeds expectations and satisfies a central goal.

To provide an exceptional experience, the designer should consider:

1) Efficient onboarding – There are a number of strategies you can integrate to augment the mobile UX during the onboarding phase to encourage patients to come back time after time, such as a tutorial to show them how the telemedicine app works. This is progressive onboarding, ideally used if your app has hidden functionalities or a complex workflow that the user may not be aware of right away. 

Great user onboarding not only furthers down abandonment rates but can also aid in boosting long-term success metrics like user lifetime value and user retention. 

2) Usability – Usability encompasses the layout of design, information, content, and other elements that allow users to achieve their goals within the app. Help your users by telling them which icons can be tapped, selected, or swiped. Always make sure that you remain even with gestures throughout the app to enhance usability. 

For instance, if swiping up deletes an item, make sure the same is true for all screens within the app. Also, consider the size of links and buttons by making them well-spaced and  easy to tap to avoid any selection errors.

3) Reducing the Search Effort – Help your users find what they need swiftly to drive conversion rates and  satisfy their needs. There are ample search approaches you can integrate into your app such as keyword search and barcode scanning. 

Providing users with filters and a search option to lead them straight to what they’re looking for will greatly increase conversion rates. The main motive of this method is to help users find exactly what they’re looking for so it’s important that the search integration doesn’t filter down to zero results.

4) Limiting User Input – This is the data users are required to enter, such as their credit card and billing information, during registration or checkout for example. User input should always be minimal on mobile devices as users may get frustrated with the smaller screen size. 

To avoid high drop off rates, make sure to limit the number of fields and only include necessary information. Streamline this process by integrating autocomplete, spell-check, and prediction text assistance.

5) Offering Assistance – Offer your users assistance within the app by providing different support options. Users will often search for help in the toolbar or tab bar of an app. Offer multiple ways for users to receive support, including self-serve FAQs and live support through click-to-call buttons, or live chats.

6) Personalization – Personalization helps provide a more unique and relevant experience to the user. Whenever possible, personalize the UX by leveraging user data to display relevant content and material in the app. For example, Provide users with specific retailer deals based on their location. The more aligned the experience is with a user’s needs and preferences, the more likely they are to continue to use the application.

Taking it a step further, including the user’s name on the screen and in messaging is an easy and effective way to personalize. Be sure to only display hyper-relevant content to each individual user for the best results. Implementing too many push notifications or pushing irrelevant content will most likely irritate the user.

Everything right from the logic, navigation, and the layout of your telemedicine app should be created in  accordance with user needs. 

That being said, a custom telemedicine platform that meets the needs of your healthcare practice can be just one click away. Get in touch with us today to know more!

Ruchika Sharma
 

Ruchika writes about the trends in technology space. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Architecture and is extremely meticulous about symmetry in everything she does. Not only is she an avid nature lover, but she also wishes to try her luck at learning mountaineering someday.