Desarrollo de aplicaciones de telemedicina: los entresijos

La telemedicina y los servicios de salud a distancia están más de moda que nunca. Por esta razón, los desarrolladores de aplicaciones deben considerar todas las variables, requisitos y marcos para ofrecer aplicaciones de telemedicina sólidas e innovadoras que satisfagan las necesidades del usuario moderno en consecuencia.

La vida humana se mueve a un ritmo increíble, una afirmación que es particularmente cierta para las tecnologías digitales. Lo que era estándar hace una década ahora está obsoleto. Con las crecientes necesidades de algunos nichos de población, la demanda de tecnologías más rápidas, mejores y más accesibles es mayor que nunca. Y, si esta demanda no era ya lo suficientemente alta, la pandemia aceleró aún más la necesidad de un acceso más eficiente a los servicios digitales e introdujo una necesidad más apremiante de lejanía. En consecuencia, y como era de esperarse, los sectores de los que más dependen las personas para su bienestar se han visto impulsados ​​a actuar y se han encaminado a prestar servicios más remotos y accesibles. Sectores como la sanidad y la banca han sido los más afectados por esta nueva necesidad. Como resultado, el ecosistema moderno de atención médica se está convirtiendo en un refugio inclusivo y accesible para usuarios de todos los ámbitos de la vida, en parte gracias al desarrollo de aplicaciones de telemedicina.

La telemedicina ayuda a los médicos a simplificar los procesos de prestación de atención médica, lo que hace que las consultas sean más fáciles, rápidas y menos exigentes. Por otro lado, los pacientes pueden acceder a los servicios médicos de manera instantánea, eficiente y desde la comodidad de sus hogares, lo que mejora los resultados y aumenta su participación en sus propios tratamientos. Fruto de estos y muchos más beneficios, la telemedicina representa un nuevo y potente canal para la correcta y ágil distribución de los servicios sanitarios. Y aunque la telemedicina es una herramienta médica tan eficaz, uno de los factores más cruciales para determinar su éxito es qué tan bien encaja en la vida de los usuarios, lo que depende de un proceso de desarrollo integral. 

Desarrollar una aplicación de telemedicina exitosa no es un proceso fácil. Requiere que los desarrolladores de apps de salud entiendan las necesidades de sus usuarios, los marcos y la arquitectura de back-end, y todo lo demás para garantizar que su aplicación de telemedicina funcione sin problemas. Entonces, antes de comenzar a escribir la primera línea de código para su aplicación de telemedicina, queríamos guiarlo sobre cómo desarrollar su aplicación de telemedicina.

 

¿Qué son las aplicaciones de telemedicina?

La telemedicina es una herramienta moderna de atención médica digital que tiene como objetivo proporcionar servicios médicos remotos a través de la comunicación a larga distancia en tiempo real entre los proveedores de atención médica y sus pacientes. Esta comunicación bidireccional funciona con dispositivos electrónicos que permiten el contacto auditivo y visual, como computadoras, teléfonos inteligentes y tabletas. Entonces, de la misma manera, podemos decir que una aplicación de telemedicina es una herramienta que habilita los servicios de telemedicina y conecta a los pacientes con los médicos a través de un dispositivo alimentado por Internet. Este dispositivo se conecta a un software o sistema de telemedicina que utiliza algún tipo de video en vivo con audio y está desarrollado para reemplazar las visitas en persona. 

La conveniencia que estas funciones ofrecen tanto a los pacientes como a los proveedores médicos es demasiado grande como para ignorarla. Por un lado, las aplicaciones de telemedicina ayudan a evitar la necesidad de una visita en persona, lo que no quiere decir que las aplicaciones de telemedicina reemplacen por completo las visitas al médico. Habrá momentos en los que acudir físicamente al médico puede salvar la vida de un paciente. Lo que hacen las aplicaciones de telemedicina es complementar las visitas presenciales y ayudar a reducir los costos y las limitaciones de tiempo inherentes a la asistencia a consultorios y hospitales. Por ejemplo, un médico que tiene su propia práctica privada puede implementar el servicio de telemedicina desde su hogar, por lo que no tiene que alquilar un espacio de trabajo costoso. Los hospitales también pueden reducir el tiempo y los costos monetarios inherentes a las altas tasas de readmisión. Los pacientes por su parte pueden acceder a los servicios médicos que necesitan desde sus hogares sin tener que desplazarse o correr el riesgo de salir a la calle y empeorar sus enfermedades. Y, cuando miramos los $460 billones que alcanzará el mercado global de la telemedicina para 2030, podemos decir con seguridad que la atención médica inevitablemente se conectará en línea con la ayuda del desarrollo de aplicaciones de telemedicina. 

Aún así, sabemos que las funcionalidades de las aplicaciones de telemedicina suenan simples a primera vista. Simplemente implementa un par de características que permiten a sus usuarios llamar a su médico, ellos responden y eso es todo, ¿verdad? Bueno, no del todo. Las aplicaciones de telemedicina pueden ser sorprendentemente complejas de construir porque requieren piezas y marcos de componentes específicos que les permitan funcionar sin problemas y recibir, almacenar y compartir datos médicos de forma segura a una escala increíble. Por lo tanto, es importante tener en cuenta que debe establecer un alcance razonable para cualquier proyecto de desarrollo de aplicaciones de telemedicina que decida emprender. Usted y su equipo deben decidir por adelantado qué funciones y características realmente necesita su aplicación y cuáles pueden ser más lujosas de usar pero no pertenecen a su proyecto, o pueden implementarlas en otras aplicaciones de atención médica más complejas. Este último punto es crucial para evitar perder tiempo e incurrir en los sobrecostes de implementar demasiados elementos en tu aplicación de telemedicina que no necesita, no agrega valor y tus usuarios no aprovecharán. 

Queremos resaltar que todos los puntos y recomendaciones de este artículo están dirigidos a todas las aplicaciones de telemedicina disponibles. Sin embargo, algunas aplicaciones de telemedicina pueden ser parte de plataformas de atención médica más grandes, como foros de pacientes, plataformas de hospitales, aplicaciones de recursos médicos digitales y otras plataformas que van más allá de la relación tradicional entre paciente y proveedor inherente a las aplicaciones de telemedicina. Por lo tanto, para los fines de este artículo, nos centraremos en el desarrollo de aplicaciones de telemedicina tradicional y simple y en los principales componentes necesarios para crear una aplicación estándar de paciente y médico.

¿Cuáles son las principales características de las aplicaciones de telemedicina?

Entonces, a estas alturas, probablemente te estés preguntando por dónde empezar. Si has estado siguiendo nuestro blog, entonces has leído nuestros otros artículos sobre investigación de usuarios sabes que este es el primero y uno de los pasos más cruciales del proceso de desarrollo de su aplicación de telemedicina. Una vez que haya realizado su investigación de usuario y sus mapas de viaje de usuario, entonces es hora de crear la lista de características de su aplicación de telemedicina. Cualquier aplicación de telemedicina competente y relevante debe tener un lado del médico y un lado del paciente, y cada uno debe tener diferentes características y funciones que se ejecuten de acuerdo con cada uno de sus roles. Las características relevantes para los pacientes pueden no ser útiles para los médicos y viceversa, así que asegúrese de tener esto en cuenta. 

Para brindarle una comprensión mejor y más profunda de las funcionalidades principales de su aplicación de telemedicina, enumeraremos algunas de las características más relevantes que normalmente puede encontrar en la mayoría de las aplicaciones de telemedicina:

Remote Monitoring Device Integration

Your telemedicine app could greatly benefit from integrating wearables and remote monitoring devices such as IoMT-powered trackers. These gadgets are very effective tools for remote monitoring because they allow doctors to keep of a patient’s vitals and health conditions remotely and alert them if there is immediate need for attentions. Patients can wear these devices and sync them to your telemedicine app to track their weight, glucose levels, blood pressure, heart rate, and even dietary modifications and everyday behaviors that impact their health conditions.

Registration Features

The gateway to your telemedicine app is a traditional sign-in feature. Since telemedicine apps are personal and must be secure, each patient should have their own personal account that only they, or any other authorized party, can access. For this reason, your telemedicine must allow users to securely sign in, either via email, username, and password, SMS, third-party apps, biometric factors, or any other two-factor or multi-factor authentication process. 

 

Profile management

After signing in, the patient must set up their personal profile. This profile should include elements such as name, gender, age, address, location, phone number, and any other personal information relevant to stakeholders to milk the app’s benefits properly. However, no matter the amount of personal data your app gathers, the most crucial pieces of data in a telemedicine app are a patient’s Electronic Health Records (EHRs). EHRs are critical for telemedicine apps because they allow doctors to quickly access patients’ previous and current health conditions without paperwork to assess them and efficiently design more personalized treatment avenues. So, implementing a robust EHR management and storage system in your app is an excellent idea and will add value to your users’ lives. Still, keep in mind that the information contained in EHRs and their privacy must be secured and available only to authorized parties.

Video

The belle of the ball of telemedicine apps. Adding video conferencing capabilities to your app is essential to ensure it meets your users’ needs to perfection while making your app more robust, innovative, and relevant. You must make sure the video transmission in your telemedicine app is of the highest possible quality that allows for seamless communication between patients and doctors while maintaining the app operating at optimal performance. If the video quality makes the app slow or leads to crashes, it will negatively impact the user experience. 

We know it may seem complicated to secure seamless communication for every user but remember that all patients have different devices and internet connections. As a result, making sure your app adapts to any video quality or screen sizes without issues is non-negotiable. For this purpose, and to make sure the real-time connection your app provides is impeccable, you can implement streaming protocols such as Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP) o Web Real-Time Communication (Web RTC). These technologies are great communication tools for telemedicine apps because they enable real-time video chatting without the need to install additional software or plug-ins or any other intermediaries or third-party apps. They also lay the groundwork for low latency connections with minimal or no buffering, essential features in telemedicine app development.

Texting

Telemedicine app development isn’t necessarily centered on video. Sometimes there’s no need for video calls. Other times, some of your app’s users can have trouble connecting with their doctors using video conferencing, but they still need to communicate with them. Hence, it would be best to implement a non-video texting and chatting feature. This option can help enhance your app’s user experience and provide an additional communication option whenever video chatting is impossible. Also, we suggest you enable file and picture sharing to simplify clear communication and make it easier for both parties to understand each other better without voice or video. 

As for which tools you can use, our suggestion is Twilio, a platform that uses APIs to enable secure and efficient live chats and texting scenarios for all sorts of applications that handle sensitive data. As a bonus for your healthcare app, Twilio is now a HIPAA-compliant platform, meaning it’s safe and beneficial for telemedicine app development.

Calendar and Geolocation Service

Since most telemedicine appointments require scheduling with your users’ doctor’s offices, you must implement an in-app calendar. It will allow all parties to manage and modify appointments easily and make them visible to everyone. And, if a user or a doctor has to reschedule a consultation, they can instantly make changes right in the calendar without having to call or deal with paperwork. In addition, you can add a feature that allows synchronization with Google Calendars with the Google Calendar API so everyone can receive notifications when changes are made and see the dates and annotations by using a widget.

Additionally, adding a geolocation feature allows for a better user experience because patients can quickly locate pharmacies, practices, and hospitals near them. By doing so, they can avoid long commutes or traffic if they need to attend the appointment in person or go to a pharmacy to collect their prescriptions.

Payment Feature

It goes without saying but adding payment capabilities to your telemedicine app is vital. Depending on your telemedicine app methodology, you can either implement a custom payment feature or use a third-party processor. We suggest the latter since it is safer, easier, and more efficient for both you and your users. Either way, since you’re dealing with sensitive information, security matters above all. So, if you’re implementing your own payment solution, make sure your users’ information is kept secure at all costs. And, if you choose a third party, make sure to conduct thorough research so you can determine the most reliable provider. Some of the most popular ones, such as PayPal o Venmo, are good, secure options. Still, you can opt for a more healthcare-oriented processor such as Elavon, which provides medical payment and billing solutions for apps and platforms of all sorts. These solutions are great but keep in mind that most payment processing third-parties require extra fees to perform their job, so keep that in mind when choosing the best payment enabler for your telemedicine app. 

Telemedicine App Development Tech Stack

Telemedicine app development is a delicate process that requires various tools and elements such as programming languages, frameworks, payment gateways, and even some third-party systems. As a result, highly experienced and innovative healthcare app developers must know how to define a suitable technical stack for the correct development of their products. So, as competent and skilled healthcare app developers, here is the tech stack we recommend and the one that we consider best meets the needs of telemedicine service users.

Technologies

  • Artificial Intelligence: AI is present in telemedicine apps in the form of Chatbots. These little AI-powered assistants can replace countless fundamental doctor-patient interactions in telemedicine apps, answer questions, make appointments, process payment data, and more.  
  • IoMT: Integrating your telemedicine app with the Internet of Medical Things devices allows doctors to monitor patients remotely and get notifications when health hazards are present or in case of emergency. 
  • Cloud Storage: Your telemedicine app will gather a lot of data, and this data needs to have somewhere to go. For that, you can opt for an on-premise or a cloud data storage system. With an on-premise storage system, you’ll need to rent the physical servers, purchase most of the hardware, and have the office space to build an entire data storage network. The great thing about this storage system is you can scale and manipulate the storage as you like, but the expenses are enormous. With cloud storage, you avoid the high costs of on-premise storage, and you can scale and purchase cloud space as needed. 
  • Big data: Healthcare organizations collect immense amounts of data to be processed to gather insights. These data lakes, or Big data, enable stakeholders to analyze EHRs, so your telemedicine app must take advantage of big data to provide a better care experience for its users. 
  • Blockchain: A blockchain is a priceless tool for any healthcare app, meaning you have a lot to gain in terms of security, privacy, and interoperability when integrating it with your telemedicine app. 

 

Programming Languages

  • Android: Kotlin and Java.
  • iOS: Swift and WebKit.

Backend Frameworks

  • Server environment: Node.js
  • Chats: Twilio
  • Video: RTMP (Real Time Messaging Protocol), WebRTC
  • Database: MySQL
  • APIs and other frameworks: Stripe, EC2, PayPal.

Frontend Frameworks

Cloud Environments

AWS, GoogleCloud

Telemedicine App Development Stages and Best Practices

1. Initial Planning and Project Scoping

Since telemedicine app development impacts people’s health and wellbeing, it requires a lot of planning and preparation to ensure the app meets the standards and requirements of its users. For this reason, some of the most crucial decisions made in telemedicine app development usually come long before you write your app’s first line of code. Who are your users? What do they want? How will you give it to them? Which platforms will your telemedicine app support? What features will it need? How will you ensure the security and confidentiality of your users’ data? Will you build an MVP (you really should)? These, and more, are some of the most crucial questions you and your team need to ask to perform the initial scoping and planning of your project. Failing to do so will result in costly mistakes that will need to be addressed further down the line, creating time and monetary constraints in critical development stages. 

Moreover, you and your team must conduct meticulous user and market research to gather valuable insights regarding your users’ expectations and needs and what they want from a telemedicine app. And, in addition to all questions mentioned above and the research phase, you also need to line out your technical requirements, total budget estimate, project goals, competitor analysis, marketing strategy, frameworks, and your telemedicine app’s maintenance and update plan. Taking care of these elements early on will give you, your team, and your client, a clear vision of the product, take a lot of the guesswork out of the equation and line out the precise guidelines of the development of the product so that every member of the team has a clear view of what they will be working on. 

 

2. Keep UI/UX Design At The Forefront

Believe it or not, many developers start building their apps without any clue what their mobile product’s design or feel will be like. These apps are destined to fail because improvising on any mobile product’s diseño UI/UX will inevitably lead to that app not meeting users’ expectations. So, after you’ve conducted your telemedicine app’s initial research, planning, and scoping, you and your team should line out how to translate those elements into a visual representation. To do so, you can use a prototyping tool such as Figma o InVision. These tools allow app designers to weave all the visuals, colors and buttons, interactions, and navigational elements together in a sort of “sketch” that conveys how the design of your telemedicine app will look and feel. Remember, as stated before, telemedicine app development is particularly delicate because it deals with the health concerns and issues of a broad range of people. As a result, telemedicine app developers must include visuals that adapt to users that may have cognitive, physical, or visual impairments. They must also test those visuals and lay them out beforehand to help their users instead of making it harder to use the app. Telemedicine app development isn’t about impressing users; it’s about making people’s lives easier, better and making healthcare more accessible. 

But, what’s the perk of doing this? Prototyping and planning your telemedicine app’s UI/UX design in advance makes the bare bones of the product visible and clear to your whole team. This way, all the interactions and navigational flows are evident, which can help expose any possible uncertainties, pain points, and issues that must be addressed and resolved before the development phase begins. Moreover, it makes it easier for everyone to assess whether or not your telemedicine app’s features, frameworks, usability, and design have the potential to meet the final user’s expectations. 

3. Choose The Right APIs and SDKs

Again, due to their sensitive nature, most telemedicine apps require healthcare app developers to implement secure component functions such as encrypted live chatting, in-app messaging or some sort of email for prescriptions and updates, and peer-to-peer video calling. However, for most apps, even for non-medical ones, it is way too expensive, exhausting, and complex to custom build these features and make them from scratch. Even more so, considering that cost-effective, efficient solutions already exist on the market, so you don’t have to do everything yourself. We often refer to these solutions as third-party APIs and SDKs (Software Development Kits).

After you’ve conducted your initial research and established your telemedicine app’s UI/UX design, you need to decide which APIs or SDKs your product’s features will be built on. For this, make sure you always conduct thorough market research and select those providers that have a proven track record, a good reputation as secure solutions, and offer highly scalable solutions. Here are some of the APIs and SDKs we recommend but remember, do your own research to make sure the tool you select is the best choice for your telemedicine app: 

Video Calling: The best video calling APIs and SDKs are the ones that adapt to the diversity of devices and internet connections inherent to telemedicine apps and their users. Additionally, they should filter out background noise or any potential interruption of the service while enhancing the clearness of speech and maintaining the security of the information. For this, use tools such as VSee or Dolby.Io. 

Chat & Messaging: As with video calling, telemedicine app chatting and messaging solutions must be secure, fast, and efficient. We recommend a customizable chat API such as Stream or Twilio.

4. Telemedicine App Development

Now to the good part, the development stage. This stage is all about actually building your telemedicine app following all the approved requirements, features, design, and research insights listed above. We highly suggest starting with an MVP to help you gauge your users’ interest while preventing possible monetary losses. You can begin by developing a simple MVP version of your telemedicine app with the essential and more necessary features to deliver the product’s benefits, thus reducing time to market. Still, your product should be scalable whether you choose an MVP or a full-blown telemedicine app, and your development team must always code with the future in mind. Scalability requires development teams to think beyond the initial product and design their coding practice to leave room for any app’s retroactive adjustments and its future growth. 

Your telemedicine app development process must also be fortified by a carefully configured and robust infrastructure setup. For healthcare development teams, this means:

  • Selecting the appropriate programming language for the telemedicine app. 
  • Delivering the first telemedicine app version as an MVP with only the core features and scale needed. 
  • Choose a cloud infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) provider such as AWS or Azure to ensure the telemedicine app has a solid, scalable infrastructure.
  • Make sure the telemedicine app meets all the legal requirements security-wise. For this, ensure all the safeguards are in place by implementing multi-factor authentication techniques and encryption methods and selecting the best, safest APIs. 
  • Always conduct code reviews in teams to promote accountability. 
  • Have a robust QA testing strategy always in place.
  • Make sure the telemedicine app is en línea con las normas HIPAA if and when applicable.

Lastly, as your telemedicine app gains traction, you and your DevOps team must understand the best and most effective way of handling scaling and ensure a resilient maintenance plan. Moreover, you must always be ready to deploy infrastructure modifications and advancements as needed. 

All of the steps and practices exposed above highly depend on your telemedicine app, your business goals, your users, and what your client wants. However, in any case, telemedicine app development requires you to implement and put into action most of these concepts, make them your own depending on your company and your team, and come up with your ideas to ensure your mobile product is high-end, capable, and, most importantly, meets your users’ needs and expectations.

Telemedicine App Development In A Nutshell

Telemedicine app development is definitely not an easy endeavor. It requires the expertise, skills, and experience that only a handful of healthcare app developers possess. However, with the right tools, a robust telemedicine app development process, and a capable, disciplined DevOps team, any development company can ship innovative products that provide users with access to mobile medical services. Furthermore, if you choose to take on the crucial task of becoming a telemedicine app developer, make sure always to establish a straightforward development process beforehand and promote the implementation of the most up-to-date frameworks and tools to ensure your product has a solid foundation and keep your users’ information safe at all times. 

Also, remember that even though telemedicine app development has its stages that progress as the development process advances, the progression of said process isn’t always linear. Some steps may require different iterations, while others may take place quickly or simultaneously without the competition of the previous step. 

We understand telemedicine app development can sound like a complex, overwhelming process. But, with the proper knowledge, preparation, and tools, and capable healthcare app developer can get it right and ship a robust, innovative telemedicine app that stands the test of time. Still, if you have any questions, doubts, or concerns, don’t hesitate to contactarnos. 

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