(And how to avoid them)

Today the world is experiencing the rebirth of telemedicine: virtual receptions in time of a global lockdown is one of the safest ways to consult patients and prevent the spread of coronavirus in hospitals. Launching a telemedicine app can be a great success and a revolutionary decision for healthcare institutions. But what hidden pitfalls of the telemedicine software can we face today and how to avoid them – that is the question we are going to answer in this article.

The Concept of Telemedicine

There are many interpretations of the “telemedicine” term. From Greek, it is translated as “healing at a distance”. The definition implies the use of ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) to improve patient outcomes by providing more access to care and medical information.

Telemedicine is a reasonably new direction that is developing at the intersection of several areas – medicine, telecommunications, information technology. This field of medical services allows the patient and the doctor to save time and effort because communication takes place online. This is especially relevant for residents of megacities who can monitor their health without sitting in queues. It is also the technology that saves people living in rural areas with few health services and staff. The telemedicine market significantly reduces the cost of treatment, improves the quality of diagnostics, and adds the possibility of remote monitoring of health.

History of Telemedicine

The term “telemedicine” was first used officially in 1974. However, telemedicine is not a new phenomenon. The idea of providing remote medical care originated 100 years ago after the invention of the telephone when people tried to transmit the sound of heart tones so that a specialist could assess the patient’s health by the telephone. Unfortunately, these attempts have failed.

The second half of the twentieth century started with the active exploration of space. It caused the need for remote monitoring of physiological parameters of astronauts. They invented the first telemetry systems, which later found their application in sports, aviation, and military medicine.

In 1959, Canadian physician Albert Jutras transmitted a video from the hospital to his home receiver for the first time. Later, he created a telemedicine system that connected two hospitals in Montreal for teleradiology.

An important stage in the development of telemedicine was the appearance of mobile medical stations, which allowed the provision of healthcare in remote areas through the use of satellite technology. This project was organized by NASA and was named STARPAHS (Space Technology Applied to Rural Papago Advanced Health Care, a program using space technology to provide health care in Papago Reservation). Thanks to this project, almost 4,000 people received medical care.

Today the telemedicine is progressing faster than ever before. Its widespread is possible thanks to technology affordability and accessibility. For example, not only do we now experience live video telemedicine, most of the American population has free access to online video chat apps on their mobile devices.

How Coronavirus influenced the Telemedicine

Before the coronavirus pandemic, telemedicine was an additional e-health service that was sometimes used but wasn’t so necessary. Today it has become an essential part of providing medical services to the population. Regardless of the current situation with quarantine, there are some challenges that still remain the prime concern. Like digitalization in Healthcare, outdated legacy platforms, cost and complexity of new technologies, cybersecurity. 

Teladoc, one of the largest IT telemedicine platforms in the United States, reports an increase of up to 100,000 virtual visits each week. The British company Push Doctors claimed that the total number of reports of coronavirus has increased by 70% – both by patients and doctors, who were advised to conduct more video consultations to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. The telemedicine, which is now experiencing rapid development, will stay with us for a long time.

Before coronavirus, most patients in the United States and Europe continued to register for offline use. Today, large hospitals across the country have become more likely to receive patients using a video link. This was a turning point for the medical community to understand how to use online opportunities in a crisis. It is now the basis for the development of medicine of the future.

Telemedicine software development

With the continuous improvement of smartphones, tablets, and other portable wireless devices, as well as the rapid growth of the mobile application market, the development of telemedicine applications opens up new opportunities to increase revenue, reduce costs and improve patient care for both healthcare and telemedicine software providers. Telemedicine software development encompasses a range of technologies for storing, sharing, and analyzing health information. 

Telemedicine software development can be divided into the following categories:

  • Real-time telemedicine software
    Real-time communication requires the patient and doctors to have simultaneous contact using various technical means for a clinical visit: webcam, telephone, computer audio system, chat, etc. Real-time telemedicine is most like a “live” visit to the doctor, allowing both parties to assess and discuss the patient’s condition and provide treatment remotely, as well as connect to a remote specialist or consultation facility. Some real-time telemedicine programs may also support mobile medical devices that allow patients to record patient health information instead of a medical examination.
  • Telemedicine platforms for data storage and transmission
    They involve the transmission of digital images and videos for diagnosis, for example, in radiology or dermatology, or clinical data between patients and physicians or between physicians for further consultation. It is a safe and fast way to share clinical information, allowing for more accurate diagnosis and more effective care, especially in areas where access to quality care is limited, such as in rural or remote areas.
  • Remote monitoring of the patient
    Also known as “home telemedicine”, it allows healthcare professionals to monitor the patient’s condition with a variety of medical devices that can be installed at home to monitor the patient’s vital signs, as well as more frequent updates on the patient’s well-being. Remote monitoring is especially useful for patients with chronic diseases or those recovering from a serious injury, illness, or surgery, for bedridden patients and elderly patients whose physical condition does not allow them to see a doctor.
  • Telemedicine software integration
    The key requirements for high-quality software systems for telemedicine and telehealth are their seamless integration with existing EHR systems (Electronic Medical Records), proper documentation of telemedicine visits, synchronization of insurance programs, integration with patient portals, medical APIs, management platforms, etc. All of the above is crucial to provide healthcare providers with better technology and patients with convenient care. Some telemedicine platforms are created directly to “communicate” with mobile medical devices.
  • Integration with pharmaceuticals
    Through the use of telemedicine software, patients have access to many professional services provided by pharmacies and can receive advice on the management of drug therapy remotely. Pharmacies participating in telemedicine programs usually cooperate with other medical institutions and provide their clients with comprehensive care. Telepharmaceutical services may include patient counseling, drug therapy monitoring, prescription re-authorization, and the use of telecommunications for training, videoconferencing, training, and management among pharmacists.
  • Data analysis in the health sector
    Big data analysis and robotics allow you to process and extract valuable information from large amounts of medical information that is collected and stored on various platforms and applications. Healthcare analytics also help assess the quality of patients’ costs to maximize their effectiveness and allow for better risk management based on aggregate data (medical data, demographic and social profile, comorbidities, etc.).

Why do you need to have telemedicine software?

There are numerous advantages of software applications for telemedicine, like:

  • More convenient and accessible tracking of patients
    Real-time consultation, the possibility of obtaining a photo consultation, including through a store-and-forward solution, the availability of medical services in the mobile mode.
    Especially this point is relevant during the quarantine period. Besides, with a telemedicine app, a doctor could have more loyal patients who are aware that they can have a consultation with their doctor anytime, via the call or just by typing a message or recording a voice or video. 
  • Cost-effectiveness and health savings
    Telemedicine reduces the number of non-urgent visits to emergency departments, eliminates transportation costs for regular check-ups, allows patients to automatically renew prescriptions, etc.
  • Improving the quality of patient care
    Storage of medical records, a single system of management and control of patients, increasing patient involvement, better access to more specialists. Automatic prescriptions and recommendations based on the updated telemetric data received from the patients. 
  • Effective time accounting and simplification of administrative operations, automated workflows of medical services. 

Hidden Pitfalls of Telemedicine

The development of digital technologies has dramatically changed the process of providing healthcare services. The shift to patient-oriented services created favorable conditions for the further development of information technology and the positive growth dynamics of this market segment. Of course, there are some hidden pitfalls that you need to be aware of, like:

  • Legislation – Compliance with health care legislation can be difficult. For example, in the United States, all telemedicine software must comply with HIPAA. HIPAA compliance implicates accomplishing the requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, its consequent amendments, and any related legislation such as HITECH (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health).
  • Backend integration – for better communication, both patients and doctors should be connected to the backend, which acts as an intermediary in the exchange of data between them.
  • Reimbursement process – mobile applications should ensure secure payment using credit cards and insurance billing tools, as well as support by the provider.
  • Equipment costs – Equipment, implementation, transport, and training costs of staff can be expensive for countries with little income or limited funding for the implementation of telemedicine strategies.
  • UI/UX implementation by both patients and providers to maintain consistency and quality user experience. This includes user interfaces, different functionality, as well as technical feasibilities.
  • Sociocultural differences between sites, which can cause the limitation of the applicability of telemedicine collaborations and impose cultural aspects related to health. Telemedicine fails in creating compatible cultural subsystems that limit the transfer of expertise from one cultural context to another.

Technologies that can help

Here are some of the technologies that will help to improve the telemedicine software experience:

  1. Machine learning
    ML and automation will help to optimize processes in hospitals, draw up disease maps and treat infectious diseases, personalize treatment. Machine learning can also be used to create “smart” electronic medical records, to visualize and diagnose (e.g., rapid and accurate detection of MRI tumors), to research and develop drugs, to remotely monitor patients, and more.
  2. Artificial Intelligence
    Artificial intelligence and deep learning can be used to identify and classify images to help improve diagnostic accuracy in detecting diseases and to promote better outcomes for patients. AI technology also helps automate the telemedicine process, from planning to consultation, examination, diagnosis, and billing, and helps physicians make decisions.
  3. Chatbots/Voice Assistants
    Chatbots and virtual health care assistants can perform functions ranging from customer service to diagnostic tools or virtual therapist services. Language recognition technology continues to improve, and users’ interest in voice search is growing.
  4. IoT in combination with telemedicine creates a new direction – the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT). It includes the use of various portable medical devices that collect specific health data by querying patients or using sensors and provide real-time care. Its effectiveness depends on the reliability of the software.
  5. RPA
    Process automation and robotics allow medical facilities to automate routine administrative tasks, free up doctors’ time, reduce errors, and save money. It can be used for scheduling reception, application processing, and general workflow automation.
  6. Integrating a broader digital transformation process
    These include finding external partners, growing expertise in automation and process optimization, clear governance, a centralized framework for IT infrastructure, change management.
  7. High-load systems/HIS (Health Information System)
    Highly loaded systems are resistant to failures, and with the right architecture, your service will be able to handle a large number of requests, even during peak loads. We have experience in delivering large healthcare projects, and we can also assist you in developing yours.

How UppLabs can help

Over the last 6 years, we mastered our skills and gained experience in creating innovative, reliable, secure, and sophisticated healthcare products and applications. UppLabs obtain strong Healthcare industry expertise, so if you’re looking for help, we’ll be glad to assist you!

We understand the complexity of the healthcare market and are ready to offer you the development of solutions using advanced technologies, taking into account global practices and trends, as well as in strict accordance with industry standards and regulatory requirements in the field of healthcare.

UppLabs is proficient in:

  • Data management solutions for hospitals and clinics
    We create highly reliable systems to support interactive communication between doctors, patients, and medication suppliers to improve the quality of healthcare.
  • Complex system integration with medical devices and medical software
    UppLabs actively uses the best cloud-based platforms Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and the best world practices to build secure and reliable solutions for our clients.
  • Custom healthcare web and mobile applications’ development for:
  • VR and AR healthcare software development
    UppLabs deliver end-to-end virtual, augmented, and mixed healthcare reality solutions for all popular devices.
  • Development of HIPAA-compliant and secure software
    We have huge experience with compliance and security regulations in the healthcare industry.

Ask UppLabs about the experience of working with top-notch digital healthcare solutions!