The growth of telemedicine has been meteoric since the pandemic hit in March 2020. But even otherwise, telemedicine apps have seen a steady growth in adoption rates in the last few years. The telemedicine market is expected to grow to nearly 460 billion USD by 2030, as per Statista. As per a report by McKinsey, Telehealth usage has grown to 38X of the pre-pandemic figures of February 2020.
So why is this growth seeing an upward trend? There are several reasons. The biggest factor in the last 1.5 year has been the urgent need for a remote health consultation system, which allows patients to be attended to while following COVID protocols and lockdowns. But there are other reasons as well— like reduced costs of healthcare via telemedicine apps, better and faster access to medical expertise, doorstep delivery of medicines, an array of tests available in the comfort of your home, and an easy portal for managing all your healthcare needs.
As such, telemedicine app development requires the incorporation of all the essential telehealth features to give the users and the experts these features. Depending on the target audience, the app developer can customize the features further, but here we’ve listed the must-have features for every telemedicine app along with information on APIs to help developers build a world-class telemedicine app -
Features for Doctors
Telemedicine app features for doctors are centered on the convenience of scheduling and consultation with a patient, including access to vital health information.
A doctor must be able to add his credentials, areas of expertise, years of expertise, and availability to his/her profile on the app. The app must also display the doctor’s rating based on rating by his/her previous patients who consulted him on the app, based on in-app verification systems. This incentivizes better healthcare from doctors, and supports doctors who consistently provide good healthcare to patients.
Verification of a doctor’s credentials can be achieved via an online document verification application and implemented with integration via API with a software like ID.me.
Patient History and Electronic Medical Records (EMR)
For a doctor to make an informed evaluation of a patient’s condition, the medical history of the patient, their test records, and previous prescriptions must be available to the doctor. As more and more hospitals and clinics move towards Electronic Medical Records (EMR), and individual user health data becomes available via wearables, this information can be easily added to an app via integration with such software. For example, Doctor on Demand provides access to patient records via integration with Apple’s Health Kit.
A telemedicine app developer can integrate these features via an API with Apple’s Health Kit.
Appointment Management and Calendar Integrations
The most important feature of the app for doctors is scheduling appointments. As such, the app should offer calendar integrations with Google and Microsoft Calendars, and also allow “manager access” to someone for scheduling appointments on behalf of doctors. There should also be an integrated workflow for canceling and rescheduling appointments.
DrChrono’s open FHIR API is a REST API that can be used to enable these features.
Customized and Secure Video Calls
At the heart of the app is the actual consultation which provides a secure, private and safe environment for patients to share details of their condition with doctors. Similar to an OPD or Clinic environment, there should be a secure voice and video calling feature that allows doctors to not just listen to the patient, but also examine them remotely. These calls should be encrypted and made airtight to hacking attempts.
CometChat’s SDK and APIs are the leading provider in secure voice and video calling services in the telemedicine industry.
For the in-app consultation to be complete, the doctor should be able to provide a legitimate digital prescription, which is accepted at any other healthcare center and pharmacy. The prescriptions should automatically get saved on the cloud to the doctor’s private database as well as the patient’s.
Doxper, a Med-tech startup, is one such app that digitizes all patient records and prescriptions in real-time. They offer intuitive APIs to integrate with any software.
Remote Patient Monitoring and IoT Integrations
One of the growing demands in the telemedicine industry is for remote patient monitoring and long-term care for chronic patients. COVID19 gave a further push to this demand with many people suffering from long-term impacts of COVID. To this end, the app must provide real-time integrations with IoT devices like wearables and other medical devices, which help doctors monitor the digital biomarkers (like blood pressure, heart rate, sleep quality, physical activity, glucose levels) of patients regularly, for a premium fee or an add-on service after consultation. Apple Healthcare provides these features via its APIs.
Features for Patients
Features of telemedicine that patients require are often the same as what the doctors require, but for different reasons, and with some variations.
A patient profile must collect all their vital health-related information, for example, age, gender, latest test records, symptoms, known health conditions, medication history, geolocation, etc. For the purpose of security, a verification system must be in place to ensure genuine profiles and avoid scams. There should also be selective privacy for patient information— for eg, what information is publicly available, and what information is available to a healthcare practitioner they are consulting.
The app must have advanced search features to help a patient search for the right specialist based on their budget, the type of expertise they are looking for, and personal preferences. An AI-based chatbot can also help the patient identify what type of specialist they should be consulting for their condition. Apps like Tata 1mg provide this feature to patients in India.
Ada is an app that provides AI-based health monitoring.
Booking an Appointment
Similar to the features for doctors, patients should have the facility to request an appointment with a doctor of their preference, add it to their personal calendar via integrations, and reschedule or cancel appointments should the need arise. Apps like Practo enable this feature in a smooth manner.
Appointment scheduling can be enabled via integration with an API like that of ChironHealth.
A telemedicine app cannot be complete without a secure payment gateway and offering multiple modes of payment to patients. Moreover, in the event of a cancellation or rescheduling the app must offer ways to credit back the payment made as per their rules of payment.
Developer platforms like Paypal APIs (US & worldwide) and Razorpay API (India), among others, are great to integrate payment gateways with mobile and web apps.
Video and Voice Calls
To a patient, a smooth, hassle-free video-calling experience is essential to a fruitful consultation. A secure, private and feature-rich video calling experience can make the consultation as useful as in-person consultation, and save time and money for the patient.
CometChat is an industry-leading HIPAA compliant voice & video calling API service for telemedicine software.
In-App Chat and Messaging
A much-wanted feature for patients is the ability to text-message doctors privately, on an encrypted platform, to raise concerns or questions about their condition or prescription. Many aggravated conditions and side effects can be averted with timely intervention by reaching out to the healthcare professional in a timely manner over text or voice messages.
We’ve explained how to add HIPAA compliant chat and messaging for Android telehealth apps in this article and for iOS telemedicine apps in this article.
Home Delivery of Medicines Based on Prescription
After an online consultation, patients often struggle to procure medicines and other items prescribed to them. A good telemedicine app also serves as an online pharmacy, similar to a hospital, where the patient can immediately buy medicines online and have them home-delivered in a timely manner. Apps like Tata 1mg, Apollo 24|7, etc provide these features within the app.
This feature can be added by building e-commerce features into the application, with AI-based document reading and approval of prescriptions, which can be uploaded by the user per order. MDLIVE is an app that enables these features via API integration.
Medicine Tracker and Push Notifications
The biggest challenge for patients after consultation is maintaining a regular routine to take their medicines. A good feature in a telemedicine app would be the ability to add your prescription to a customizable calendar that sends push notifications to take the medicines at the proper time. This is possible via calendar integrations. Medisafe is one such telemedicine app that sends out push notifications for taking pills on time.
It is important for a patient to be able to add their insurance plans to their telemedicine app account to be able to benefit from their insurance. As such, a secure method of integration and verification of insurance purchase records should be available in the telemedicine app, along with the features of settling payments via the insurance plan purchased. For example, the health conditions and services covered in the insurance plan should be updated in the user profile after adding the insurance plan, and the user should be able to claim benefits for the same without leaving the app. ZocDoc is a telemedicine app that provides this service to patients.
A 2FA based API integration with the insurance provider is one of the ways to achieve this. Eligible is one such app which enables this.
Features for Administrators
Most of the telehealth features required by administrators are the same as those required by patients and doctors. A few additional features required by administrators, say at a hospital which is providing telemedicine services, are below.
Data Privacy and Storage
Data storage and privacy are the most important features for an administrator of a healthcare service provider like a hospital or a med-tech startup. The app must comply with GDPR for the storage of user data. In addition, the app must be HIPAA compliant in the United States, or its equivalent in other countries. The app must have inbuilt features to ensure end-to-end encryption, and no accidental leak of user information. Cloud storage must be enabled for the app, and the administrator must be able to access data in an anonymized or other secure way for research and reporting purposes.
One of the most secure ways of enabling permission-based sharing of documents is via blockchain technology, which provides a decentralized ledger of records, which can be shared based on user preferences.
Providing Ancillary Services
Some hospitals may choose to provide ancillary services like home-testing or home visits by a professional. The administrators would require access and integrations to schedule such services for patients upon verification with the prescription, if required.
In-App chat between the doctor and patient is an additional feature that would immensely help with increasing the user-base and smooth scheduling.
Telemedicine is on the path to revolutionizing healthcare to make it more accessible and affordable for people from all backgrounds. It also helps eliminate biases, bad behavior from either professionals or patients, and ensures timely attention to health issues. In the post-pandemic world, telemedicine is the way forward to give healthcare access to millions, and great communication is at the center of this virtual consultation world.
CometChat is the leading technology provider in text, voice, and video calling features. To build secure and HIPAA compliant communication features in your telehealth app, sign up to the CometChat developer dashboard and start building right away for free.
About the Author
Arti Agarwal is an alum of IIT Roorkee & MIT. She has pursued advanced education in Data Science and Economics. She's a published author and writer and winner of the "Most Influential Content Marketing Professional" Award by the World Marketing Congress in 2017.