Telemedicine and remote health services are as in-vogue as they’ve ever been. For this reason, app developers must consider all the variables, requirements, and frameworks to ship innovative, robust telemedicine apps that meet the modern user’s needs accordingly.
Human life moves at an unbelievable pace, a statement that is particularly true for digital technologies. What was standard a decade ago is obsolete now. With the increasing needs of some population niches, the demand for faster, better, and more accessible technologies is higher than ever. And, if this demand wasn’t high enough already, the pandemic further accelerated the need for more efficient access to digital services and introduced a more pressing need for remoteness. Consequently, and as it was to be expected, the sectors in which people depend on the most for their wellbeing have seen themselves galvanized into taking action and steered themselves into providing more remote, accessible services. Sectors such as healthcare and banking have been the most influenced by this newfound need. As a result, the modern healthcare ecosystem is becoming an inclusive, accessible haven for users from all walks of life, partly thanks to telemedicine app development.
Telemedicine helps doctors simplify the healthcare delivery processes making consultations easier, faster, and less taxing. On the other hand, patients can access medical services instantly, efficiently, and from the comfort of their homes, which improves outcomes and increases their participation in their own treatments. As a result of these and many more benefits, telemedicine represents a new and powerful channel for the correct and swift distribution of healthcare services. And even though telemedicine is such an effective medical tool, one of the most crucial factors in determining its success is how well it fits into users’ lives, which depends on a wholesome development process.
Developing a successful telemedicine app is not an easy process. It requires healthcare app developers to understand their users’ needs, the frameworks and backend architecture, and everything in between to ensure their telemedicine app works seamlessly. So, before you start writing the first line of code for your telemedicine app, we wanted to guide you on how to develop your telemedicine app.
What Are Telemedicine Apps?
Telemedicine is a modern digital healthcare tool that aims to provide remote medical services via real-time, long-distance communication between healthcare providers and their patients. This two-way communication is powered by electronic gadgets that enable audio and visual contact, such as computers, smartphones, and tablets. So, in that same fashion, we can say that a telemedicine app is a tool that enables telemedicine services and connects patients with physicians via an internet-powered device. This device connects to a telemedicine software or system that uses some form of live video with audio and is developed to replace in-person visits.
The convenience these features offer to both patients and medical providers is too great to ignore. For one, telemedicine apps help prevent the need for in-person, which is not to say that telemedicine apps will completely replace doctor visits. There will be times when physically going to the doctor can save a patient’s life. What telemedicine apps do is complement in-person visits and help reduce the costs and time constraints inherent to attending consultation offices and hospitals. For instance, a doctor that runs their own private practice can implement telemedicine service from their home, so they don’t have to rent an expensive working space. Hospitals can also reduce the time and monetary costs inherent to high readmission rates. Patients on their part can access the medical services they need from their homes without commuting or risking going outside and making their illnesses worse. And, when we look at the almost $460 billion that the global telemedicine market will reach by 2030, we can safely say that healthcare will inevitably go online with the help of telemedicine app development.
Still, we know that telemedicine apps’ functionalities sound simple at first glance. You just implement a couple of features that let your users call their doctor, they answer, and that’s that, right? Well, not quite. Telemedicine apps can be surprisingly complex to build because they require specific component pieces and frameworks to allow them to work seamlessly and securely receive, store, and share medical data at an unbelievable scale. So, it’s important to note that you need to establish a reasonable scope for any telemedicine app development project you decide to undertake. You and your team must decide upfront which functions and features your app actually needs and which ones may be more of a luxury to use but don’t belong in your project, or you can implement them in other more complex healthcare apps. This last point is crucial to avoid wasting time and incurring in the extra costs of implementing too many elements in your telemedicine app that it doesn’t need, doesn’t add value, and your users won’t take advantage of.
We want to highlight that all the points and recommendations within this article are aimed at all available telemedicine apps. However, some telemedicine apps may be part of larger healthcare platforms, such as patient forums, hospital platforms, digital medical resource apps, and other platforms that go outside the traditional patient-provider relationship inherent to telemedicine apps. So, for the purposes of this article, we’ll remain focused on simple, traditional telemedicine app development and the main components necessary to build a standard patient-doctor app.
What Are The Main Features of Telemedicine Apps?
So, by now, you’re probably wondering where to begin. If you’ve been following our blog, then you’ve read our other articles on user research and know by now that this is the first and one of the most crucial steps of your telemedicine app development process. After you’ve got your user research and your user journey maps down, then it’s time to come up with your telemedicine app’s feature list. Any competent and relevant telemedicine app should have a physician’s side and a patient’s side, and each must have different features and functions that run according to each of their roles. The relevant features for patients may not be helpful for doctors and vice versa, so make sure to keep this in mind.
To give you a better, more in-depth understanding of the core functionalities for your telemedicine app, we’ll list some of the most relevant features that you can usually find on most telemedicine apps:
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.
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.
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.
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) or 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.
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.
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 or 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.
- 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.
- Android: Kotlin and Java.
- iOS: Swift and WebKit.
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 UI/UX design 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 or 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 HIPAA compliant 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 contact us!