Telehealth is among the latest medical wonders transforming the healthcare sector by leaps and bounds—bringing seamless access to quality care over long distances at a patient’s convenience. While telehealth isn’t exactly a recent novelty—with its use in outpatient care already spanning over decades—the ubiquity of portable computers and smart devices alongside the onset of broadband connections has pushed its adoption to even greater heights.
The rapid expansion of digital infrastructure isn’t the only catalyst for telehealth’s explosive popularity. The ongoing global health crisis against coronavirus (Covid-19) has also opened up new possibilities for its uptake in various areas of medical care. Indeed, as efforts to curb viral transmission through social distancing and lockdown take greater precedence, there has been a shift in outlook on how routine check-ups and doctor visits are typically performed. In times when physical contact and public gatherings are greatly discouraged, the appeal of virtual communication to replace non-urgent visits and ease the workload of medical practitioners cannot be overstated.
This article will explore the challenges and opportunities presented by telehealth software in our collective fight against a rampaging global pandemic—highlighting the many ways custom solutions can accommodate care pathways to patients via remote means.
What is telehealth?
A portmanteau of the words telecommunication and healthcare, telehealth is a term that refers to any use of virtual communications infrastructure in various medical practices. Such technology ranges from a bespoke online healthcare portal for medical consultations to an internal software system that manages ancillary services, such as medical training, logistics, patient records, and payment processes.
In many contexts, you’d often come across telehealth and telemedicine being used interchangeably. However, both terms massively differ in scope and definition. Telehealth is a broad term that encompasses various technology-assisted services for both clinical and non-clinical endeavors conducted at a distance. In contrast, telemedicine specifically denotes the implementation of off-site technology to deliver direct patient care, from diagnosis and consultation to treatment and monitoring.
For healthcare providers, understanding this distinction is incredibly crucial in determining the future parameters of its custom healthcare software. Given the dizzying miscellany and complexity of digital health services, making this critical decision early on would considerably reduce the costs of development and time-to-market since the focus would primarily fall upon designing and integrating features that truly address the existing business concerns.
Telehealth services in times of Covid-19
Sprung out of necessity, the uptake of telehealth is a direct response to the fallout induced by the Covid-19 lockdown. Experts underscore three main areas that have propelled this industry demand: the public’s more welcoming attitude towards commercial telehealth services; a steady influx of providers and practitioners with established telehealth infrastructure; and regulatory frameworks promulgating the telehealth adoption through coverage waivers, approvals of new services, and parity reimbursement.
This multi-pronged trend has borne fruit. McKinsey noted that since the start of the pandemic, telehealth usage for periodic visits and outpatient care had risen 38 times higher than the pre-pandemic baseline—with variations of 13 to 17% across specialties. Besides the lower risk of exposure to Covid-19, the consumers’ growing favorability towards telehealth also comes from the induced demand for streamlined medical services. In 2020, nearly eight out of ten consumers disclosed their interest in going digital for healthcare assistance—a significant jump from only 11% in the year prior.
Interestingly, primary care physicians stand to benefit the most from the presence of virtual care options, with 97% of them moving their medical operations digitally in 2020 as compared to frontline medical operatives at only 57%.
The advantages of telehealth
Other than circumstantial necessity, telehealth software development has also brought about a significant paradigm shift in healthcare operations. The benefits provided by a telehealth app are manifold and far-reaching, not just in terms of clinical processes but also administrative and managerial functions—all of which would surely make this endeavor an excellent long-term investment for healthcare organizations. Here are a few reasons why telehealth software is worth considering:
- More receptive to digital transformation – Telehealth is part of a larger blueprint that envisions digitalization as the future of healthcare. By embracing this technological shift early on, healthcare organizations would become better adapted to the increasingly complex challenges in medical care and the coming waves of other digital disruptors, such as AI-powered wearables and IoT-enabled medical equipment. With robust digital capabilities at their disposal, medical providers can gain a competitive edge in new areas of clinical research and advancements.
- Better patient engagement and health awareness – Equipped with built-in assistive tools like high-quality video conferencing platforms and accessible personal medical information, health apps encourage patients to be more involved with their health and give them the liberty to choose their own physicians from a range of selections. This user-focused customizability, in turn, leads to better patient engagement and health awareness.
- Enhanced outpatient care – As the demand for affordable and hassle-free outpatient care has grown exponentially in the past few years, healthcare providers turn to medical apps to facilitate medical access to patients at the comfort of their homes whenever it’s convenient. This ambulatory care option is beneficial for those with mobility restrictions due to chronic conditions, those requiring limited yet in-demand specialized care, and those living in rural areas sans proper medical facilities.
- More streamlined healthcare services – Most telehealth apps possess a high degree of automation and system integration to accelerate clinical workflow. By assigning various administrative tasks to preprogrammed software commands and integrated modules, like retrieving medical records from an external database to display on the user’s interface, practitioners can concentrate on faster patient diagnosis and treatment delivery.
- Lower operational costs – Owing to minimum operational logistics required, proprietary health apps enable healthcare organizations to offer quality care at a fraction of the costs of on-site medical services.
Key development areas in custom telehealth
Telehealth is among the fastest-growing areas in medical technology, with a growing number of specialties looking to venture into digital alternatives. Despite the myriad opportunities in sight, custom telehealth software still comes with its own set of development challenges. Being cognizant of these potential drawbacks would enable healthcare organizations to build a more resilient application with well-suited features to their target demographics. These challenges are as follows:
Personal health information is the backbone of virtual care. Keeping the integrity of this data against cyber threats requires custom telehealth solutions to secure their access points with several technical safeguards. In certain jurisdictions, adherence to existing privacy laws, such as GDPR and HIPAA, is mandatory, further underscoring the importance of airtight security protocols.
In most instances, the standard password system isn’t sufficient to keep suspicious activities at bay. Most telehealth apps must now be equipped with multi-factor authentications, which would see the concurrent use of a password and a code from an authorized device. Software developers can also design a solution that accommodates biometric authorizations readily available in most smart devices, such as fingerprints and facial recognition.
Software programs that host multiple functionalities, from as complex as medical data management systems to as simple as portable health apps, cannot function alone. System integration is sometimes necessary to keep the programs running smoothly, and that often goes beyond integrating access to external EHR (electronic health records) database.
For instance, mobile pharmacy apps need to be calibrated with online banking APIs and other digital payment services to process payments and orders. For ease of access, these programs can be linked to social media and email APIs, which allow first-time users to access services instantly without creating a new account.
Telehealth software can maximize its demographic outreach by accommodating diverse platforms, from mobile and desktop to web and cross-platform. But like all good things, there’s a caveat to watch out for. Making your custom solution compatible with multitudes of operating systems can be a costly endeavor, so always design your telehealth software for platforms that your target audience would most likely use. For mobile-based applications specifically, this means deciding whether to strictly rely on either native or web-based app development or go for more broad-based options like hybrid development and PWAs (progressive web applications).
With so many aspects to consider, customizing your own telehealth might seem daunting at first. However, you can cast your worry aside since getting expert help will take you to the end goal faster without the growing pains.
Looking for software developers to help develop your custom telehealth software? Contact us now with your telehealth ideas, and let us help you make them into the breakthroughs of tomorrow.