The Internet has truly revolutionized how we live our lives in all aspects. In the age of pandemics, physical and face-to-face interactions are not always practical. Telemedicine plays a crucial role in bridging the widening gap between patients and doctors, where interactions are often hindered by safety protocols and logistical issues.
Telemedicine is a recent addition to the medical field and there has been a slow adoption of the technology. Currently, 35 percent of physicians do not have access to this life-changing technology.
Telehealth is a highly dynamic and interesting field that is being integrated by more and more medical providers and practitioners into their services offered by way of catering to the demands of this generation’s tech-savvy population. Telemedicine or telehealth access is slated to increase by 16.8 percent annually between now and 2023.
What is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine or telehealth refers to remote clinical services where medical professionals can visit with their patients with the assistance of improved telecommunications technology. Telehealth is a tool for convenient, cost-effective medical care. In an age of ever-increasing medical costs, telehealth can be useful to many people.
By using telemedicine platforms, patients can share information with their doctors in real-time. Patients often have the option of using either their personal desktop computer, laptop computer, or smartphone from the comfort of their own home.
The use of a telehealth platform often results in decreased stress for patients. Its use eliminates long lines and long appointment wait times. By instituting this virtual approach to patient care a medical professional can better offer clinical services to their clients and also gain more significance in a world that relies heavily upon digital access to services.
Functions Needed for a Telemedicine Platform
While telemedicine is convenient it does; however, require quality internet connections. For the feature to be easily used both the doctor and the patient must have a good internet connection. As not everyone has high-speed internet access, when you build your telehealth platform, you should ensure that it can support both high-speed broadband connections and slower low bandwidth internet connections.
Aside from supporting all types of internet connections, there are a few functions that are needed to ensure a top telemedicine platform.
Video conferencing enables two-way, real-time interactions between doctors and patients using computers or mobile phones. The use of a secure video conferencing platform is highly suggested as it helps your office retain HIPAA compliance.
Video conferencing ability is important for a number of reasons. First and foremost, video conferencing is needed for medical consultations that require a visual inspection. Second, as part of a March 2020 Medicare Fact Sheet (created during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic), it was stated that in order to comply with Medicare rules, the provider must use an audio and visual conferencing system that allows for real-time communication.
While not an absolute necessity, it is often most helpful if the telehealth platform utilized high-definition video and audio as well as the ability to screen share. High-definition video and audio allow for a clearer picture of the patient and any issue they may have. Screen sharing helps the patient to include their caregivers and translators in the virtual medical visit.
Instant messaging access is one option that you may consider instituting in your telemedicine platform. When figuring out how to build a telemedicine platform it is important to understand that while instant messaging will often not qualify as a visit, it is more flexible and consumes less bandwidth than e-visits.
Using instant messaging with your telehealth platform allows your patients to send you text-based messages. Depending on the way you set up your platform, you can even allow them to send pictures.
It is important to remember that if you choose to institute instant messaging as part of your telehealth platform, you should make sure that it is secure. Security is important because you don’t want your patient’s private medical information to leak to third parties and find yourself in violation of HIPAA.
E-Prescribing means prescriptions can be created and sent electronically to patients or their pharmacies immediately after the virtual medical visit. Including e-prescription abilities into your telehealth platform is important because it makes the prescription filling process quicker for your patients.
Additionally, the use of e-prescribing options allows you to improve the efficiency of the prescription process. No longer are there concerns about handwriting legibility or needs to make copies of prescriptions for better record keeping. Everything you prescribe can be automatically uploaded to the patient’s electronic medical record.
HIPAA Compliant Security Features
HIPAA stands for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. The 1996 act requires that all those that have access to medical records must do so in a secure manner. When you create a telemedicine platform you must ensure that you follow the HIPAA rules and regulations.
One important HIPAA regulation that you should keep in mind when figuring out how to build a telemedicine platform for your practice is the security regulation. The security regulations of HIPAA require a few safeguards to be in place to protect the private medical information of your patients.
Two important security rules that you need to keep in mind when creating your telehealth platform are the need to protect your information system from intrusion and that their information is password protected.
Encryption and Security Protocols
Companies that deal with protected health information must have solutions that recognize and protect their patient data in all forms. The encryption protocols make sure healthcare organizations are able to meet HIPAA and HITECH regulations for access, audit, integrity controls, data transmission, and device security, as well as maintain the trust between practitioners and patients.
Virtual Waiting Room
Patients often show up for visits earlier than the scheduled time or doctors may be running late due to needing extra time with an earlier patient. To better accommodate these situations, it is important to utilize a virtual waiting room.
Virtual waiting rooms allow doctors to create a space for patients to wait before their virtual appointment begins. This can help to eliminate refreshing the screen to see when the doctor has logged in.
To help facilitate your patient’s ability to schedule their in-person or telehealth visit, you should include the ability to remotely schedule visits. Remote scheduling can also help to alleviate some of the work required by your front desk staff by allowing clients to see available appointments based on the time and date that works best for them.
With remote scheduling, you no longer will have to deal with tied up phone lines with clients that are trying to find a date and time that works best for them. Your patient will be able to access the appointments calendar to see what times and dates are available at their leisure, which may lead to decreased rescheduling and a reduction in missed appointments.
Some healthcare providers even include the ability to easily transfer their appointment information to their Google Calendar or other smartphone scheduling app. This can further reduce the chances of your patient forgetting their scheduled appointment.
Medical Record Integration
You can allow your telemedicine platform to integrate with your electronic patient records management system. By integrating the two applications you can ensure that your patient records are as complete as possible.
Additionally, you will need to data-back your logs, records, and transcripts for all patient-physician interactions as part of your public health administration evidence. With a telehealth platform, you can streamline the workflow that is required for this integration. It will also help to reduce errors that come from having a person manually perform these actions.
Medical Billing Integration
If you’re tired of spending tons of money on medical billing, a telemedicine platform may help you. With appropriate medical billing integration, all your medical billing could be done automatically by the platform.
Using in-house or outsourced billing can be susceptible to problems like inexperienced staff or negligence. Inexperienced or negligent staff members can cause errors in claim submission which can cause your medical practice to leave deductibles, co-insurance payments, or reimbursements out. With automated medical billing, you can save labor hours and reduce mistakes.
HIPAA and Telemedicine
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) seeks to protect the privacy and security of certain health information that is held or transferred in electronic form. It is a United States legislation that sets industry-wide standards for health care information on billing and other processes to reduce health care fraud and abuse.
- Privacy Rule. The HIPAA Privacy Rule deals with securing patient data stored or transferred electronically to allow the flow of health information needed in providing high-quality health care and protecting the public’s health and wellbeing.
- Security Rule. The HIPAA Security Rule sets national security standards in three areas of protection required for compliance: administrative, physical, and technical. It is the bedrock of telemedicine provider compliance.
Under the Security Rule, telemedicine portals will be HIPAA compliant if they implement the following measures:
- Only-authorized user access to electronic Protected Health Information (ePHI)
- A system of secure communication to protect the integrity of ePHI
- A system of monitoring communications containing ePHI to prevent accidental or malicious breaches
How to Build a Telemedicine Platform
Starting a telemedicine platform entails a software development cycle that typically starts with ideas and research. As it gets transformed into an actionable plan, designers would begin crafting its design to create a system interface that is easy to navigate both for doctors and patients.
The project then gets handed over to software developers who will commence the actual creation of the platform. Once the platform is deployed and ready for use, it will receive constant updates and maintenance to keep the program running and efficient.
App vs. Website
There has been an ongoing debate about telemedicine solutions going app-based or web-based. Most of them are now being optimized for mobile devices since people spend more time on their phones than on their computer screens, especially the patients.
Telemedicine app development has the advantage of providing patients with a variety of benefits. Some telemedicine services that app-based telehealth can include are asynchronous messaging, push notifications, and reminders for both payments and appointments.
For many of these services, your patients will not need an internet connection. Offline abilities can help patients who have difficulty accessing the internet.
Alt-text: A doctor on a medical screen with text: Web-based telehealth platforms may be cheaper than a telemedicine app.
While app-based platforms may provide a better experience for patients, web-based ones are much more preferred by doctors who usually work on two or more monitors to do multiple things at a time like video calls with a patient whilst checking their medical records.
In general, web-based platforms are more widely used because there are simply fewer factors to consider when building one. Problems like unfamiliarity with the process of downloading apps, incorrect passwords, limited hard drive space, and overall lack of tech knowledge are easy to overcome when using web-based platforms.
Furthermore, if development costs are a concern for you, web-based telemedicine platforms can be cheaper to produce than a mobile app.
Working with a Developer
The developing team is the most important aspect of creating a remote healthcare platform. It is important that they understand what the project needs and goals are, the capital and time to market constraints, and how the platform ultimately impacts the business as a whole.
The development company should also be able to manage their resources and propose solutions that do not compromise the quality and user experience.
The Development Process
It can cost tens of thousands of dollars to develop a telemedicine platform and can take months to complete. The bulk of the cost goes to software development and support to make sure important features are integrated into the platform.
Users should be able to manage their profiles, appointments, transactions, payments, and communication channels with their healthcare providers and system administrators.
The development process is divided into stages:
- Planning – This is when important choices are made before commissioning the developers. It includes choosing a platform, determining target geography and web functions, and which solution to opt for coding. The development team then organizes development processes, sprints, and deadlines.
- Development – This is the app coding phase where user experience and interface designs will be determined and set in stone. After that, the APIs will be integrated into the platform so it can be ready for testing. First app versions will be deployed into the market so the developers would know how to scale the project further with the next versions.
- Quality assurance and UAT testing – This involves tests that will help maintain high-end quality, performance, and proper functioning of the telemedicine platform.
Benefits of Creating a Telemedicine Platform for Your Practice
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen the rising eminence of telemedicine platforms as they are becoming the only viable alternative for patients to see their doctors and continue their consultations. Telemedicine makes up nearly one-fourth of the health IT market whose value, estimated to be at nearly $20 billion in 2019, is increasing by the year.
As the medical world is always evolving, using technology and advances to the medical field is advantageous and, in fact, necessary for healthcare providers to reach a broader market and find better ways to treat people.
There are many financial gains to reap when utilizing telemedicine.
- Increased revenue. Doctors can see more patients without hiring more staff or increasing office space. Telemedicine is less time-consuming, and it allows doctors to bill for unpaid phone calls and cut down on no-shows. The mandated HIPAA compliance helps streamline workflows and enhance patient care which attracts and retains more customers.
- Reduced overhead. In the U.S., $2.9 trillion is spent on healthcare every year, with $200 billion of these costs constituting unnecessary spending. At the micro-level, the average cost of an on-site doctor’s visit is $146 whereas a telehealth visit only costs $79 on average. The efficiency rendered by telemedicine technologies in scheduling and operation significantly reduces healthcare spending by eliminating unnecessary ER and onsite visits.
Increased Patient Engagement
Remote monitoring can improve outcomes whilst cutting costs, and the proactive treatment that patients receive in an online clinical visit encourages them to keep coming back for further virtual consultations. The Department of Health and Human Services reported a meteoric rise of visits conducted via Telemedicine in April this year, up to 43.5 percent from just 0.1 percent in February.
Advanced Business Models
There is a paradigm shift to the advancement of consumer-based care, and this is caused by the increasing popularity of telemedicine platforms. Healthcare providers now find that they can expand their patient base beyond their physical facilities, extend hours, and develop better and more convenient ways to interact with and treat their patients.
Improved Patient Care
Telemedicine has made providing care more efficient and thoughtful. Healthcare systems can now use a more extensive remote patient monitoring system, let physicians conduct a video chat to cater to questions following a hospital discharge, adjust treatment plans in real-time, give patients access to their medical records, and help patients especially in the rural areas reduce their medical expenses.
Expanded Access To Care and Specialist Consultations
Telemedicine makes it easy for primary care doctors and patients to tap medical specialists on niche consultations, wherever and whenever. Rural area patients can avail of medical services outside of normal care delivery systems at any given time, and small hospitals can outsource medical technologies beyond their capacity and resources.
Having a telemedicine platform elevates the practice and takes healthcare businesses to the next level. For healthcare providers, the potential for more ways to monetize telemedicine apps is ever-growing due to large demand. For patients, access to medical aid has never been easier and more within reach.
Telemedicine is taking us to a new era of healthcare, and building a platform requires heavy lifting. Contact Orange County custom software development agency, Idea Maker, to get a head start in the development of a top-notch telemedicine system.