How To Develop A Telemedicine Application: An Ultimate Guide To Telehealth App Development
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we do all kinds of things, from ditching the office to work from home to ordering delivery and curbside pickup in lieu of a visit to the store or restaurant. However, one of the biggest changes triggered by COVID-19 happened in the healthcare domain, with more and more clinicians and patients going for remote consultations and skipping in-person visits.
This, in turn, led to a dramatic increase in the number of telemedicine services and patients using them. McKinsey estimates that just a year after the start of the pandemic, telemedicine has seen a 38x increase. This looks very promising not just for patients and healthcare providers who want a new, more convenient way to connect, but also for software companies who want to tap into the emerging market and take advantage of its potential. Here is your guide to building telemedicine applications.
What is a telemedicine application and why should you build one?
A telemedicine application is a software product designed to make healthcare more accessible to patients and easier to deliver for clinicians. A telehealth solution usually has two sides: the patient side, where the user can find a doctor, schedule an appointment, upload relevant documents, and connect to the doctor via text, voice, or video, and the caregiver side, where the doctor can review the patient’s file, confirm or cancel appointments, and refer the patient to other specialists as required by their condition.
Telehealth is by no means a new concept — the first remote consultations were done by the Nebraska Psychiatric Institute in the late 1950s. However, telemedicine as an industry has undeniably gotten an unprecedented boost in 2020 and 2021, when the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the normal in-person healthcare flow. In some European countries, close to 50% of clinicians were doing consultations remotely via telemedicine in 2020, and the number is only going up from here. The past few years have seen a rapid increase in the number and size of telemedicine companies, but there is still plenty of room for new players. So if you’ve grown an interest in the business side of telehealth and consider joining this up-and-coming industry, now is the time to do it.
“As an industry, we need to do a better job of explaining the benefits of using technology to support or enhance their lifestyle, independence, and dignity.”
Ryan Herd, Caregiving Technology Integrator, via Forbes
Types of telemedicine software
Being one of the most rapidly growing health tech industries, telemedicine regularly comes up with new solutions to different people’s problems. This is why we can break down the entire telemedicine system into a few popular types of medical apps for patients, healthcare providers, and anyone in between. Here are the key types of telemedicine applications we are witnessing in the global telemedicine market.
Synchronous telemedicine products are probably the closest thing to a traditional appointment at the doctor’s office, as the patient and the provider communicate in real time. The doctor can provide consultations, review the results of tests, or even guide the patient remotely through the procedures that can be performed at home. One of the benefits of telemedicine apps employing the synchronous model is that they make medical services accessible to people who otherwise have limited access to healthcare. Synchronous communication also allows for the use of telemedicine for urgent patient care.
Asynchronous telemedicine, also known as store-and-forward health services, does not require the patient and the healthcare provider to exchange information in real time. This technology allows the patient to upload test results, photos, and even videos, along with the description of the problem, for the doctor to review the documents and provide recommendations whenever they have the time. The patient can then access the recommendations at any convenient time. One of the main benefits of store-and-forward telemedicine applications is that the same data can be accessed by multiple healthcare providers to ensure more comprehensive care.
The Internet of Things technology is one of the most popular ones among telemedicine app developers, and for a good reason. It can significantly speed up the process of exchanging information between the patient and the provider. Using all kinds of IoT healthcare devices — blood pressure monitors, pulse oximeters, glucose meters — the patient can enter data into the application manually or have them sync automatically for the health practitioner to monitor the results in real time and get a complete picture of the patient’s health status.
Most popular telemedicine apps on the market
Before you decide to build a telemedicine platform, you need to know where the telemedicine market stands in terms of widely known solutions and what they do. Here are the most popular telemedicine solutions available right now.
Doctor On Demand
Doctor On Demand is a service that offers remote consultations with over 1,400 physicians all across the United States. Patients can connect to doctors via text or video. One of the standout features of Doctors On Demand is its prescription service and the built-in interactive map where the patient can locate the nearest pharmacy.
Unlike many telemedicine services that are better suited for planned visits, MDLive is tailored to provide urgent consultations. Many insurances in the US cover it, and it is the preferred alternative to in-person primary care for numerous patients. In addition to urgent consultations, MDLive also provides mental health care.
HealthTap is a comprehensive telemedicine solution available on all common platforms. It offers same-day or same-week consultations with a wide range of healthcare specialists. HealthTap charges patients by consultation and also provides a subscription model, which allows patients to chat with their physicians following a consultation.
TelaDoc is one of the biggest players in the telemedicine industry with several solutions for different platforms. It offers primary care, mental health services, and prescriptions. TelaDoc is covered by many insurances and can forward the patient’s file to their primary physician with the patient’s consent.
BetterHelp is a telehealth service that focuses exclusively on mental health. It employs thousands of therapists who specialize, among other things, in teen and couple counseling. Patients can choose the right therapist using filters and reviews, as well as the right communication model among text chat, asynchronous messaging, and video consultations.
Key tech trends of telemedicine software development
Telemedicine services are getting not only more functional and all-encompassing, but also more technologically advanced. In addition to regularly rolling out new features, telemedicine application development also employs popular and up-and-coming technologies. Here are the technologies you may consider using in your telehealth mobile app:
- Big data. The digitalization of healthcare is all about big amounts of data, and there are hardly any better ways to handle it than big data technology. Using big data, an application can store, manage, and provide instant access to all kinds of patient information, while cloud storage ensures constant availability and better security of the files.
- AI and ML. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning have countless uses in telemedicine and are more widespread in the industry than you probably think. From writing fully functional chatbots that can substitute for an in-person consultation when no doctor is available to tools that quickly analyze data from different sources, such as the list of symptoms and test results, to providing an accurate diagnosis in little time, AI is a vital technology for the telemedicine industry. Popular AI & ML technologies include Amazon Rekognition for image and video analysis, Google Cloud AutoML for custom machine learning models, and Azure Machine Learning and Azure Cognitive Services for computer vision, speech recognition, language understanding, and similar tasks.
- Blockchain. Healthcare applications exchange sensitive data all the time, both between the patient and the doctor and between the data storage facility — for example, a hospital — and the end user — for example, a doctor or a patient. Blockchain technology helps decentralize data, making it harder for third parties to gain unauthorized access, and preventing sensitive information from getting stolen and misused.
- AR and VR. Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality have long become much more than purely entertainment technologies. Both of these technologies have been actively employed in training clinicians, including achieving better hand-eye coordination in surgeons. AR and VR are also widely used in telemedicine — for example, in neuropsychology and psychotherapy as additional tools, as well as in diagnostic departments.
- Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) devices. RPM devices allow healthcare providers to remotely monitor patients’ vital signs and health conditions. These devices can include blood pressure monitors, glucose meters, pulse oximeters, and wearable devices like fitness trackers or smartwatches. To connect the application with RPM, developers typically use APIs and data transmission technologies such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or direct connection via USB.
- Secure communication and data exchange. Secure messaging platforms and HIPAA-compliant communication tools are crucial for transmitting sensitive patient information securely between healthcare providers and patients. All of the popular clouds like Amazon (AWS), Google (GCP), and Microsoft (Azure) are compliant with HIPAA standards and support Business Associate Agreement (BAA).
- Video conferencing. Reliable and secure video conferencing platforms are essential for virtual consultations between healthcare providers and patients. Popular platforms include Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex, Doxy.me, and Google Meet. Also, mobile applications often use popular Instant Messengers (IM) that support video chats, such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Skype.
- Cloud computing. The cloud-based infrastructure allows for secure storage, access, and sharing of patient data, making it easier for healthcare providers to collaborate and access information remotely. Comprehensive telehealth platforms integrate various telemedicine technologies into a unified solution. These platforms often include features like virtual consultations, appointment scheduling, Electronic Health Records (EHR) integration, and billing functionality.
“The two most popular technologies currently being used for telemedicine are sensors and wearables. Sensors allow healthcare providers to monitor patients’ vital signs remotely and provide valuable data about their condition, which can then be acted upon quickly if necessary. Wearables provide patients with self-management options that are easy to use and allow them to track their own progress. Both technologies are integral to providing quality telemedicine services.”
Pankaj Srivastava, Co-Founder & CEO of ClinicSpots
Benefits of developing a telemedicine solution
Thousands of people in the healthcare and software development domains ask themselves: “Should I create a telehealth app?” Sure, the statistics look promising, and telemedicine is guaranteed to become an even bigger presence in our lives in the upcoming years. But is building a telemedicine app from scratch worth it? Here at QArea, we are convinced that it definitely is. Here are the biggest benefits of telehealth software development for healthcare providers and patients.
For healthcare companies
- Faster access to data. The doctor can review the patient’s file before the appointment or shortly after its start, allowing them to do more in less time and serve more patients in one day.
- Full medical history. An app for doctors displays all the information about the patient that is relevant to the case, including tests, other doctors’ reports, and other documents, stored in one convenient place.
- Wider reach. With remote healthcare, hospitals and individual practitioners can reach patients outside their geographical zone: international reach is a big part of the telemedicine appeal for healthcare companies.
- Speedy care. Both a telehealth app and a web solution allow patients to get a consultation with a doctor within hours, if not minutes. This is not usually the case with physical hospitals, where one can wait weeks for an appointment.
- Access to narrow specialists. When the patient lives in a location where only general practitioners and similar medical specialties are available, being able to consult a narrow specialist can often become a life-saving feature.
- Multiple opinions available. With all the health information stored in one app, a patient can consult multiple health practitioners for different opinions and, therefore, a more precise diagnosis and recommendations.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has also made patients more aware of the possibilities of digital health and telemedicine. As a result of the increase in telemedicine from the pandemic, physicians have realized that technology can be a great ally in times of great need. It gives physicians more time to focus on the delivery of care.”
Every telemedicine app feature to consider
The goal of our telemedicine app development guide is to give you some practical knowledge on how to develop a telehealth app that genuinely helps both the doctor and the patient. Here are the must-have and the nice-to-have features to include in your telemedicine app development solution.
- Appointment management. With this feature, the doctor or their assistant can instantly see the calendar for each workday and the available time slots. This feature also allows the doctor to select availability hours for patients to see, as well as add, modify, and cancel appointments with patients.
- EHR integration. If your future telehealth application will operate as part of a larger healthcare service — for example, a hospital that will now provide remote consultations — then fast and secure synchronization with the organization’s EHR (Electronic Health Records) system is a must for quality treatment.
- Group calls. This is one of the nice-to-have features that may not be present in the MVP development stage but can significantly improve the UX for both the patient and the doctor. With the help of group calls, the doctor can discuss complex cases with other specialists, which results in accurate diagnoses and care.
- Chatbot. When a mobile telehealth app is equipped with a functional chatbot, it can save a lot of time for the doctor or the nurse on everyday tasks, such as making and canceling appointments, getting the test results, and rating the customer experience after a visit.
- E-prescriptions. Electronic prescriptions are another time-saving feature that benefits both the patient and the doctor and further helps adopt remote healthcare as the most modern and practical option compared to in-patient appointments.
- Registration & data sharing. This is the feature you definitely need for an MVP of a telemedicine solution, as the user needs to be authorized in the app before they can have a consultation. After registration, the user can be prompted to complete a questionnaire about their personal and health data, or upload health records and test results.
- Communication features. The two of the most popular communication features of a telemedicine product are live text chat and video chat. For an asynchronous communication app — for example, when the patient’s health condition is not urgent, there needs to be an option to exchange messages whenever it’s convenient for both parties.
- Doctor selection & scheduling. When a patient wants to book an appointment, they should be able to see the list of all available doctors of the required specialty. There should be options to group and sort the doctors by location, rating, and availability. The patient should also be able to see the upcoming schedule of the selected doctor.
- Doctor rating. After the appointment, the patient should be asked to select a rating for the doctor and possibly share more about their experience in a review. The ratings and reviews should also be available for other registered patients to see.
- Safe payments. In the majority of cases, the consultations are going to be paid, and the payment needs to be made before or immediately after the consultation. This is why a safe payment gateway is one of the must-have features of a telehealth app. Many companies prefer to use API technology for payment functionality.
Choosing a tech stack for telehealth app: What to use to develop a telemedicine app
The technology stack you use in your telehealth app development process affects pretty much every aspect of the project, from the available functionality and choice of a development partner to the cost of the product and the time it takes to complete the project. This is why choosing the tech stack for telehealth app development is not a decision that should be taken lightly, and you cannot simply go with the most popular technologies or the ones your team is familiar with.
One of the factors that will influence your choice the most is the range of platforms where the solution is going to be made available. Telemedicine applications for mobile devices are significantly more popular than web solutions, so if you decide to focus just on the mobile platforms, your tech stack is going to include mostly mobile-first technologies. However, the share of web telehealth users is still considerable enough for you to develop a web version as well. Here are the technologies most telemedicine developers now use in their products:
- App for iOS: Swift, Objective-C
- App for Android: Java, Kotlin
- Cross-platform/Hybrid app: React Native, Flutter
- Front-end for web: React, Vue.js, Angular
- Cloud services: Google (GCP), Amazon (AWS), Microsoft (Azure)
- Data storage: Relational databases (e.g. MS SQL, Oracle, PostgreSql, MySQL), Time Series storages (Amazon Timestream, Azure Time Series Insights, Prometheus, InfluxDB), NonSQL (MongoDB)
How to create a telemedicine app: A step by step guide to telehealth app development
Developing a telehealth application, whether for mobile or desktop platforms, is a complex process that can take from six to twelve months to complete, depending on the complexity of the idea and other factors. If you want the project to be completed in a reasonable time and not miss any important features or design elements, following a specific sequence of steps is the shortest path to get there. Here are the stages to go through when you develop a telemedicine app.
1. Validate your idea
When you have an idea for a telemedicine application, the first step is formulating it in great detail and making sure it’s viable. To do this, you need to know which issues your product is going to solve and who its target audience is going to be. Ideally, you need to communicate with the target audience at this stage to see what they are looking for in a telehealth application, how tech-savvy they are, and how much they are prepared to pay for the service. You will also need to perform a competitor analysis to see what works and what doesn’t for other apps in the niche. A business analyst can help you with all those tasks.
2. Evaluate your resources or find a tech partner
One of the most important choices you need to make in the beginning of a telemedicine development project is whether you have the resources to develop it in-house or if you need to outsource at least some of the work to a tech partner. For medium and large projects, a reliable partner with relevant healthcare expertise may need to get involved even if you have an in-house development team, as it may not be easy to meet all of the industry regulations as a first-time telemedicine software developer.
3. Develop the application architecture
A crucial step in the process of telemedicine app development is setting up the application architecture. On different projects, the architecture will consist of different elements, so you will likely need someone like a Systems Architect — a person who is familiar not only with the technicalities of application development, but also with the business side of things, and can successfully bridge the gap between the project idea and the available resources. The architecture will include client, clinician, and administrator functionality, communication tools, APIs and microservices, and cloud and storage facilities.
4. Create the UI/UX design
The importance of a strong UI/UX design cannot be overrated: even from your experience as a user of different apps, you can probably agree that a design can make or break the success of a software product. This is especially vital if you’re targeting a casual audience without deep technical knowledge. The application needs to have an intuitive, clear interface on any platform, and all telemedicine software features should be accessible with one or two taps on the screen. An experienced UI/UX designer can help you craft a perfect visual representation for your idea.
5. Develop your software solution
This is the stage where your project will finally come to life and you can see your ideas in action. A good idea is to start with an MVP first, see how it’s received, and then develop the solution with extended functionality. Sure, dividing the development part into two stages may drive up the initial telemedicine app development cost, but it can also save you from many costly mistakes. The most important thing at this stage is to get your app developed within the specified deadline and following the original specifications.
6. Perform quality assurance
Before you can let your application see the world, you need to make sure that it’s fully ready for release. And the best way to do it is through extensive software testing. Depending on the project specifics, this can include functional testing, user acceptance testing, compatibility testing, localization testing, security testing, UI/UX testing, and activities like smoke testing and regression testing to make sure a particular software build has all the necessary functionality and is fully stable.
7. Deploy your application
When every possible development and testing activity is over, it is time to get your solution out there. Specifically, you need to upload it to the App Store and Google Play Store, and make it available as a web application. You will also need to launch a marketing campaign to make sure as many people as possible find out about it and your user base grows steadily. However, your work isn’t over there, because next comes the maintenance stage. Keep your application up-to-date, constantly work on usability and new functionality, and pay attention to customer feedback to stay on top of the telemedicine market.
Monetization strategies for a telehealth mobile app
The complex process of telemedicine platform development has several goals, including helping patients and doctors get better experiences with healthcare. However, the application also needs to make money for its stakeholders. So what are the options when it comes to the monetization of telemedicine software, and which ones should you consider for your next project?
The exact set of monetization opportunities depends on who is developing a project: a healthcare company with the help of a tech partner, or a software development company that does not necessarily belong to the healthcare domain? A healthcare company that wants to venture into telemedicine can typically choose from the following three monetization models:
- Subscription model. Under this strategy, the user will select one of the available subscription plans. The subscription cost depends on what’s included: most importantly, how many video or text consultations the user can get per subscription period. There may also be some content, such as health tips and diet plans, that is available for free.
- Per-consultation model. This is probably the most popular monetization model: the user does not pay for using any of the app functionality except for synchronous or asynchronous consultations. This is the model that makes the most sense financially for users who only need an occasional consultation, but it also means the company behind the app needs to rely on a constant stream of paying users to support itself.
- Ad-supported model. Under this model, users can access most or all of the app’s functionality for free, but there are going to be ads displayed from time to time. Ads can also include sponsored content that should be marked as such. That way, users can get quick consultations (typically over text) without having to pay for them. There can also be an optional paid subscription that removes the ads.
Now let’s talk about the ways to monetize your telehealth solution if you represent a software company that now wants to venture into the telemedicine domain. In addition to just selling your solution to a healthcare company, there are two other options to make money from your solution:
- Software as a Service. This model works similarly to SaaS in other industries and domains: first, you create a software solution and then offer it to hospitals, individual practitioners, and other healthcare specialists on a subscription basis. You can provide the solution as-is or offer minor tweaks for an additional charge.
- Franchise. With franchising, you sell not only the software solution itself, but also the brand, which means you need to have a strong brand and a solid reputation in the market. Under the franchise model, the end customers — usually, healthcare companies — have to follow the owner’s rules and guidelines more stringently than under the SaaS model.
How to make money with your telemedicine solution: Additional tips
No matter which payment model you choose, your monetization opportunities don’t stop there. Here are a few ways to make extra money from a telemedicine application:
- Brand sponsorship. Striking a deal with a healthcare-related company can give you an additional source of income while keeping the service free or affordable to your users. Sponsorship can include anything from using the sponsor’s logo on your loading screen to brand-sponsored contests for users.
- Promotional offers. You can increase the number of paying customers by offering perks that come with subscriptions. It can be free merchandise, discounts for healthcare products and doctor appointments, meal and fitness plans, and so on.
- Premium content. If your application regularly publishes health-related content, you can increase the number of paid subscribers by keeping the most valuable content behind a paywall.
- Group visits. While many patients wouldn’t be comfortable discussing their conditions with anyone but their doctor, others prefer sharing their experiences with others. This is where group visits can come in handy. They save time for the doctor while increasing revenue. Group visits are especially popular in mental health services.
- Partner bundles. In addition to telemedicine, there are many other businesses operating in the digital healthcare domain, from exercise apps to health tracking devices. Joining forces with another company and offering two services at a discounted price makes money for both of them.
How much does it cost to develop a telemedicine application?
As is always the case with complex software projects, the cost of developing a telehealth application is never fixed and depends on a multitude of factors. These are the most important factors that will affect your overall project cost:
- Project scope. How complex is your application going to be, how many features it’s going to include, and how many platforms is it going to be available on? All of these aspects determine the project scope, which, in turn, determines the price.
- Team location. Are you going to develop your project with the help of an in-house team, or are you going to outsource some or all of it? When working with an in-house team, will you need to make some additional hiring? And with outsourcing, the location of your team matters a lot: software engineers from Central and Eastern Europe or South Asia charge significantly less than engineers from North America and Western Europe while producing the same excellent results quality-wise.
- Cooperation model. Software companies typically offer several cooperation models for development projects: the most popular ones are time and material and fixed price. Both of them have their advantages and limitations, and both are perfectly suited for different types of projects. Naturally, these two cooperation models also drastically affect the project cost in different ways.
The exact composition of your team will also influence the overall expenses of developing a telehealth app. If you’re looking for a team to develop your project from start to finish, you will likely need the following specialists on board:
- System Architect
- Business Analyst
- UI/UX Designer
- Project Manager
- Front-End Developer
- Back-End Developer
- Software QA Engineer
- DevOps Engineer
Now onto the cost of building a telehealth mobile app. A very basic application or an MVP version can cost you around $40,000-50,000. A more advanced application with all of the originally planned functionality costs around $80,000-$90,000 to develop and implement. Finally, a very complex telehealth app with robust functionality and cross-platform availability can cost $120,000 and more to build.
Challenges of telemedicine app development & How to overcome them
Even with the most brilliant product idea and the most competent development team, getting your app right on the first try is not an easy fit. These are the challenges to consider in your planning process and to keep your team informed about.
When you want to develop a telemedicine application, it’s critical to remember that your audience is going to be very diverse and not necessarily tech-savvy. In fact, one study indicates that 60 to 69 is the most active group of telemedicine users, closely followed by the 50 to 59 and 70 to 79 age groups. Unfortunately, UI/UX design has always been one of the most challenging aspects of telemedicine app development. This is why a telehealth development project can definitely benefit from an accomplished UI/UX designer as part of the team. Ensuring a positive user experience is crucial for the adoption and successful implementation of telemedicine solutions.
Universal accessibility is among the biggest driving forces behind the growth of telemedicine. And while this primarily means ensuring access to the app regardless of location, nationality, and age group, you also need to consider the myriad of devices people are going to use your telehealth app on. This means that you not only need to build a telehealth app for iOS and Android with different OS and platform combinations in mind, but also include comprehensive compatibility testing in your softwa