With the virtualization of healthcare appointments over the past year, telemedicine has become popular as a low-risk, easy alternative to in-person medical consultations. Telemedicine applications allow medical professionals to meet with, diagnose, and treat patients remotely. If you are tasked with developing a telemedicine application, you probably know this already. Feel free to jump to our first suggestion to get started.
If telemedicine is new to you, note that telemedicine is a subset of telehealth. Telemedicine covers remote clinical services, such as patient consultations, while telehealth includes both clinical and non-clinical medical services such as training, education, and administrative work.
Using telemedicine software prevents illnesses from spreading through proximity, providing an extra layer of health safety for all parties. Telemedicine also promotes accessibility. Patients can work with medical professionals and resources outside of their region. They can consult with doctors from the comfort of their own homes, without having to worry about the effort or funding required to reach the healthcare provider’s office each time they have an appointment. On top of that, telemedicine creates an approachable healthcare environment for those who are traveling, allowing them to access the medical care they are comfortable with while on the go.
So, what goes into building a telemedicine application? Consultations might use forms, phone calls, and video calls to collect medical data from the patient. This article will focus mainly on telemedicine applications that use video as the source of communication. Video streaming comes with its challenges, so for the most efficient and positive user experience, there are a few key features to consider when developing a telemedicine application.
When it comes to developing telemedicine applications, patient privacy must be a top priority. To ensure that the app is HIPAA compliant—or, if you’re outside the US, follows the regulations of the region you’re in—it is of utmost importance that all data sent through the app is encrypted. Encryption keeps information secure, and makes it available only to those who are authorized to have it. For browser-based applications, WebRTC is a great way to accomplish this.
The WebRTC technology was designed with security in mind. It has built-in encryption so that all audio, video, and other data is protected, without having to rely on third-party plugins. WebRTC’s security implementation is standard across regions, which makes it adaptable and reliable no matter where users are located.
For further security, you can even add custom round-trip authentication to create an extra layer of defense against anyone who might want access to private information.
As you plan to develop a telemedicine application, you may choose to deploy it on a cloud service provider of your choice, or in your own data centers.
There are many benefits to choosing a Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS) to host your application. These platforms often take the hassle out of both setup and maintenance, and they provide a simple, scalable solution for deployment and development. However, keep in mind that security is key for a telemedicine application, and that the security regulations of service providers are subject to change.
Telemedicine applications require solutions that place authentication high up on their lists of priorities. For extra data protection, consider self-hosting the application on your own cloud account, or, if you have the resources, in your own data centers. For example, with a CPaaS, you do not always have the highest level of control over your data. On the other hand, a self-hosted application takes more hands-on work to configure and maintain, but it gives you full control over your data, which can help keep patient information secure. Note that the major cloud providers get their own certifications for regulations like HIPAA. These providers are trusted by large companies in the telemedicine space, so it is smart to host your application infrastructure on a major cloud provider for this reason alone. Self-hosting your streaming infrastructure on such a cloud provider as opposed to using a CPaaS, where you don’t have control, means you get the best of both worlds.
With a self-hosted solution, you do not have to worry about the privacy terms of another product. There is no third-party data tracking, no third-party access to streams, and no worry about having to switch hosting providers if the terms and conditions change. Also, due to the increased security that stems from this approach, self-hosting the application ensures that patient privacy regulations—such as HIPAA in the US—are sufficiently met.
As you develop your telemedicine application, it is important to consider how the application will adapt to changing technologies over time. Today, most telemedicine applications provide clinical services at a distance through the use of video and audio calls. However, telemedicine—and telehealth in general—is a constantly growing area of technology. Several companies are already incorporating artificial intelligence and virtual reality into their applications. In some cases, AI is being used to screen patients and make a preliminary diagnosis based on their symptoms. It can even be used to simulate face-to-face conversation during the screening process. Other providers are using VR for remote patient monitoring, or to re-create the benefits of group therapy sessions for those who cannot attend in person.
To ensure that your product holds space for new developments, it is vital to choose a flexible video streaming solution that allows the addition of new features and the expansion to new devices. CPaaS offerings, while extremely convenient, can lock you into their own APIs. In other words if what you want to do next doesn’t exist out of the box on the CPaaS you chose, you may be looking at a costly migration effort in the future. Which leads us to our next point.
As your telemedicine app grows and changes over time, it is important to have a solution that can be customized to your needs. A flexible solution allows you to write your own applications that sit on top of it, so if you want to use AI processing or incorporate other APIs into the product, you have the ability to do so.
A CPaaS, for example, provides creators with the communication infrastructure they need on the back-end, and leaves you to customize the front-end to your liking. Usually CPaaS providers have a range of APIs and other features to choose from, which can be incorporated into the application.
As an alternative, this is another area where a self-hosted application can be beneficial. Self-hosting allows for extra flexibility; it can be modified to fit any unique needs or features you would like to support in the application. Additionally, server-side logic can be written in any language you choose, so you can find the solution that works best for the product.
Strong Client-side SDKs
A strong software framework is necessary for developing the video streaming functionality required by a telemedicine application.
Hardware acceleration is a key attribute of a strong client-side SDK for video streaming. This is especially important in a telemedicine application that uses 360° streams for VR, among other use cases. In addition, client-side video-streaming SDKs should be adaptable across platforms, so that users can join calls from a variety of devices and browsers. Red5 Pro, for example, has a WebRTC SDK for desktop and mobile browser streaming, as well as native mobile SDKs for both iOS and Android. These SDKs provide all the essential features of real-time streaming for an efficient telemedicine application.
In the past few years, health clinics have moved their services online as much as possible. More and more patients are using digital alternatives to traditional consultations, and telehealth provides clinicians with the option to hold meetings, training sessions, and seminars online. With telemedicine’s growing popularity and a constantly evolving list of available features, a telemedicine application must be able to support a large number of concurrent users. This is where load-testing tools become important. As an example, Red5 Pro has developed load-testing “bees” that can be used to send any number of simultaneous attacks to a server. The bees create clients that subscribe to a video stream on the server, and as the number of clients increases, the load-testing process reveals how many concurrent connections the system can handle at once.
With the load-testing results in mind, remember that the traffic to an application fluctuates, so the telemedicine application must be able to increase or decrease capacity based on user demand rather than always using the maximum amount of server instances. Auto-scaling technology such as the one provided by Red5 Pro allows automatic creation and deletion of server instances based on the amount of traffic experienced at a given time. This process uses the findings from your load-testing to prepare for the possibility of a sudden increase in connections to the system, so that the application can scale as needed.Scalable real-time video streaming can be hard to accomplish, especially when participants are joining from a wide range of locations, and with different levels of internet connectivity. If you’re interested in building your own scalable telemedicine application with flexible, reliable real-time video, Red5 Pro can help you. To learn more, send us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org, or schedule a call.