257% spike in just 3 months – that’s what happened with just one of the telemedicine platforms Amwell in Spring of 2020.
Even before the coronavirus, it was expected that the global telehealth market will be worth $175 billion by the year 2027. However, the spike in demand for telemedicine services has grown enormously in recent months.
That is how telemedicine platforms became one of the promising businesses of 2020.
But how to create a telemedicine platform and help people in the shortest possible time frame? How to navigate patients and doctors and still get value from your platform? This article will unveil all the details.
1. The Telemedicine Market
What is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine stands for usage of information and communication technologies to improve patient access to care and medical information in order to enhance patient health outcomes.
It allows healthcare specialists to evaluate, diagnose and treat patients in distant locations by means of telemedicine technologies.
- remote doctor-patient consultations.
- health education services
- remote monitoring of vital signs, ECG or blood pressure
According to a Merritt Hawkins survey, conducted in 15 major metropolitan areas in the USA, a patient needs to wait on average 24.1 days in order to have a new appointment. The situation is even worse for mid-sized cities where an average time is 32.8% longer than for major metropolitan areas. That is why one in three patients have decided to go to an emergency room to avoid waiting.
The situation is similar in Europe, though it is a bit easier to book an appointment with the general practitioner. For example, in France it takes 6 days, however, the situation is much different for seeing a specialist. To see a pediatrician, it сan take around 3 weeks.
The picture becomes even worse when you add COVID-19 to the equation. That is why the need for telemedicine platforms is now bigger than ever.
According to the 2019 Physician Survey, conducted by American Well, physician telehealth adoption was up 340%, and by 2022, between 340,000 and 590,000 physicians are expected to be using telehealth. Obviously, after the pandemic of 2020, these forecasts look kind of underestimated.
According to the American Journal of Managed Care, 62.6% of patients and 59.0% of clinicians reported no difference in the quality of visits between in-house visits and telehealth.
Based on the Research2Guidance questionnaire, 53% of patients are interested in remote doctor visits or have already taken part in them.
The Definitive Healthcare survey indicates that 65% of US physicians in outpatient care and 40% of medical specialists in inpatient care services have already supported telehealth applications and use them regularly. In addition, 90% of telehealth investments are planned to take place within the next 12 to 18 months.
One more interesting fact: even though North America has had the largest telehealth market, it is forecasted that the healthcare IT market the Asia Pacific will experience the fastest growth driven by:
- Rising investments
- Arising trends
- Increased number of patients with chronic or infectious diseases.
2. Rise of Telemedicine Services due to the COVID-19
Telemedicine is not that new to the world — it has been around for more than 50 years when the University of Nebraska performed a medical video consultation.
However, it has been growing and expanding rapidly in recent years when the technologies became more accessible and widespread.
2020 has definitely gotten things rolling much faster than it used to due to the pandemic. As the coronavirus struck country by country in a matter of months, it became clear that drastic measures should be taken towards the adoption of telehealth, or else the whole healthcare system will collapse.
One of the examples is a new COVID-19 telemedicine program that was opened in Tel Aviv in February. This program helps to treat physically isolated patients who are not critically ill. It was created to help hospitals to make room for severely-ill patients.
Growth in Telemedicine Services Usage
Almost every telehealth platform that there is has been experiencing a rapid spike in a number of users.
Practo, a telehealth startup, claimed that the number of users on its platform is increasing by an “average of over 100% week-on-week” since March 1. And as it turns out over 50% of consultations of general practitioners were related to the coronavirus.
According to the Medical Futurist, PlushCare had an increase in appointments by 70%. Amwell had a spike in its usage by 158% in the US since January.
Another company called myUpchar is also seeing a growth in a number of patients, but not only those who are concerned with the COVID-19, but also people with serious illnesses.
Onedoc, an e-health startup has been experiencing some difficulties with doctors’ availability during the pandemic. Onedoc had an enormous increase in users that’s why the company had to divide an earlier booked appointment by four at the beginning of March. In less than 7 days they have built a video consultation that was planned to launch in the summer of 2020.
During these challenging times, many online health platforms provide free consultations related to coronavirus. WeDoctor, an e-health platform has recently launched a program against coronavirus. Since then it had 6.8 million visits and held free consultations to more than 24,000 users from 22 countries, among which were the U.S., the UK, Australia, and Italy.
3. Benefits of Telemedicine Platforms
Accessibility is one of the most influential telemedicine benefits. With telemedicine platforms, patients have the ability to make an appointment with the doctor no matter where they are. A video call can take place where a person is and can take less than 30 minutes.
It is especially important in areas where there aren’t many hospitals or there is a lack of specialists. Americans living in the countryside are 7 times more likely to report that they didn’t have a chance to get help from a specialist compared to urban areas where the likelihood is three times.
Telemedicine expands the audience and gives a number of benefits to doctors.
According to the 2019 Physician Survey, conducted by American Well, 69% of physicians are willing to have a video appointment since it increases access for their patients. Additionally, 93% of physicians said that telehealth improves a patient’s access to care.
RHA notes that there is an issue of healthcare personnel shortage. This can be seen in rural areas especially (39.8 physicians per 100,000 people, compared to 53.3 physicians per 100,000 in urban areas).
Not only are telehealth platforms accessible, but they are also convenient.
According to the 2019 Physician Survey, one of the reasons why physicians are willing to hold a video call with the patients is because of the work-life balance.
Besides, 77% of responders said that it contributes to more efficient use of time both for doctors and patients.
Telehealth saves tons of money for patients since they don’t need to use emergency rooms in order to get treatment as fast as possible.
An appointment with the doctor via a telemedicine platform costs around $49 whereas a visit to an emergency room can be three times higher.
Telehealth platforms are able to offer affordable prices to patients since they optimize the use of resources and staff distribution. Telehealth platforms don’t need equipped waiting rooms and office staff.
According to Statista, in 2017, around 30% of healthcare organizations reported saving approximately 20% of their costs with the help of telemedicine. Another 42% of organizations reported saving 5%-19% of the cost of providing their services.
During the time of life-threatening diseases, exposing oneself to the nidus is a great risk. And online video consulting is a much safer option for both patients and medical staff.
4. Best Market Telemedicine Services
Doctor On Demand
Doctor on Demand is probably the most famous telehealth app. In only 3 minutes, a patient can be matched with the doctor. Doctor on Demand was founded in 2012 and is now based in San Francisco. The company has raised $160.7M in total.
Using a Doctor on Demand app is no different than having an offline visit. A patient lists their symptoms and concerns. Then a doctor and a patient have a video call, after that, a doctor gives a diagnosis and suggests the necessary treatment.
The peculiarity of this app is that a user can have an instant video appointment even at 3 a.m., it works 24/7.
Zocdoc is an online telehealth marketplace that connects patients with doctors. Founded in 2007, it has already fundraised $225.9M. Due to the COVID-19 Zocdoc decided to add video communication to its platform in April 2020. In just one week, Zocdoc has already сonducted more than 350,000 video appointments.
Zocdoc uses both a subscription and a commission monetization model where doctors are charged a booking fee.
HealthTap is an AI-powered health platform that not only provides patients with a doctor’s consultation and treatment but also offers an AI-driven chatbot that helps to assess patients’ symptoms.
The company was founded in Palo Alto, California in 2010 and has raised over $80M in funds.
MDLIVE is another telehealth company that offers online and on-demand healthcare services. Founded in 2006 in Sunrise, Florida, it has raised about $120M in 3 funding rounds.
MDLive offers consultations via a phone or a video call or a mobile app. Besides offering consultation from general practitioners, the company also provides behavioral health therapy.
Babylon Health is a London-based startup that is powered by machine learning. It offers 2 kinds of services: either scheduling an appointment with the doctor or talking to an AI-chatbot.
The company was founded in 2013 and has already got $635.3M of investments.
In March it launched an AI-driven chatbot for checking the coronavirus symptoms.
Practo is an online telehealth marketplace that provides a variety of medical services such as video appointments with a doctor, chatting with a doctor, buying necessary medications and booking tests or checkups.
The company is headquartered in Bangalore, India, and founded in 2008. Overall Practo raised $251M.
5. Challenges When Building a Telemedicine Platform
When you are building a telemedicine platform, you need to think through the value that your platform is going to give to both sides – patients and doctors. Besides the obvious challenge that every online marketplace has – retaining both parties – there are some typical issues related to the healthcare industry.
Any website that provides healthcare services and operations such as payment or support has to be compliant with the countries’ regulations. Each country has different regulations. For example, in the USA, it’s HIPAA, but in Canada – PIPEDA.
European Union countries follow the Data Protection Directive 1995/46/EC and the e-Privacy Directive 2002/58/EC. If a healthcare platform fails to follow the regulations, the company can be seriously fined or even sued. In some cases, such violations can lead to prison time.
- HIPAA Compliance
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) manages transmissions, protects medical and personal data and limits access to unauthorized entities. In case a healthcare website is not legitimate if it’s not HIPAA compliant.
Solution: Following Health Level-7, a set of international standards used to transfer and share data between different healthcare providers. HL7 ensures that patients’ medical data is safely secured and stored. Plus, it provides a framework for every step of medical data exchange and storage.
Note: Those who are planning to build a telemedicine platform in the USA are in luck because on March 27, Trump signed the CARES Act. This act loosened a few regulations for healthcare providers. On April 2, the Federal Communications Commission released the $200M COVID-19 Telehealth Program to help eligible healthcare providers continue to treat patients with the help of telehealth tech.
Another important step in winning patients’ and doctors’ trust is security. You need to be sure that your platform uses the proper practices for securing a telehealth website.
Available security methods:
- Multi-factor authentication
- Biometric identification
- Data encryption
- Two-step user verification
- Automatic log-offs.
Security is not the only factor in gaining patients’ trust. Doctors’ expertise plays a big part in winning users’ trust.
A telehealth platform can get users to trust by:
- Showcasing doctors’ experience, diplomacy, years of experience, overall expertise and where they work
- Including patients’ feedback and ratings on a particular doctor.
If you are building an online telehealth marketplace in multiple languages , it would be hard to make it used all over the World, due to many law restrictions around the globe. On the other hand, it provides hundreds of opportunities to build an excellent niche and local platform.
But are doctors allowed to consult patients that are abroad?
In fact, doctors can consult patients on treatment and medication that are abroad. However, in the case of international care provision doctors can’t write any prescriptions. Patients can use the recommended medicines, but they are solely responsible for their actions and this treatment.
6. Core Features of a Telemedicine Platform
Learning how to create a telemedicine platform starts with market and competitors research and then defining the core features for the future product.
As we overviewed the most popular telemedicine platforms, we have found a few details and most importantly core features that should be brought up to your attention.
Firstly, there are three user roles on the telemedicine platforms: doctors, patients, and admins. Each of them uses different features.
- Registration should be fast and easy, though you should ask the gender and date of birth. In order to speed up the registration process, your platform can offer to sign up with a social network, like Google or Facebook.
- Some platforms only work with patients that have health insurance, others don’t work with uncovered patients. So, it would be a good idea to find out the patient’s coverage beforehand .
- Always make sure to send an email or an SMS to a patient’s phone in order to confirm one’s intention to use the platform.
User Profile & Dashboard
A user’s profile should be the same as their medical card, only in a digital form. Probably the best version of a user’s profile was implemented on HealthTap. It has everything, starting from general information about the patient ending with preferred pharmacies.
As for a dashboard, a patient should be able to access data on their last visit, prescriptions, treatments, and so on.
You can make the search as extensive as you want it to be, but we advise you to keep to the minimum:
- Search by a keyword, physician or symptom
- By patient’s location
Your search page can also have a map and can show the number of available doctors.
In case one of the ways of your platform monetization is promoting doctors’ profiles by charging them a fee, then you should clearly state to the patients that a certain doctor’s profile is sponsored.
Since various states have different regulations, your platform should have a geolocation feature to ensure that both a patient and a doctor are from the same area.
There is a wide range of filters you can introduce on your telemedicine platform.
The most common filters are:
- Date and time
- Special hours
Сommon parameters for sorting:
- Default order
- Wait time rating
Your platform should provide a patient with information on a chosen doctor.
Doctor’s page should contain:
- Field of practice
- General information
- In-network insurances
- Education and training
- Languages spoken
Note: If there are a lot of reviews, you can enable search and filter for reviews.
Bookings are often done in the form of a questionnaire. During a booking process a user should be asked for:
- Patient’s insurance number
- Reason for the appointment
- Time and Date
Video and Audio Calls
Video and Audio calls should be HIPAA compliant and secure as mentioned above. HIPAA compliant video or audio call can be achieved by following Health Level-7.
You can choose what kind of a video call your platform will offer: on-demand or pre-scheduled. On-demand call stands for an instant call. Usually, this typeof call is more expensive. Pre-scheduled call is a call booked beforehand with a set date and time.
For conducting payment transactions in Sloboda Studio we usually go for some safe options like PayPal or Stripe. Offer users different options of paying – with a credit card or a digital wallet.
Rating and Reviews
Build trust by implementing such a feature as a rating and reviewing system. 3 core pages to place reviews:
- Listing page
- Doctor’s page
- Main Page
Note: To enable this feature don’t forget to ask users to leave feedback after each appointment. The more feedback you’ll collect, the more trust your platform would gain.
After a user had a video or an audio appointment, they might still need some clarifications. Texting on the platform is the way to settle them. However, with this feature, your platform should have a subscription model since a user will be taking some of the doctor’s time. This way, you’ll have the resources to compensate for the doctor’s time.
As patients, doctors also need to fill in the information about themselves, including their photos, certifications, experience, for patients to see a doctor’s page.
The doctor’s dashboard is an extremely valuable feature since it contains every detail on every patient of theirs. Patient records, prescriptions, scheduled appointments, and treatment – it’s all there.
Calendar integration is useful both for patients and doctors. Patients will use a calendar during searching and a booking process. Plus, both doctors and patients can set automatic reminders for their appointments.
According to the Massachusetts General Hospital, 79% of patients find scheduling a follow-up visit via telehealth pretty convenient.
When the treatment for the patient is decided, usually a doctor writes down the prescription. The doctor can write down an ePrescription and share it with the closest pharmacy to the patient. On some telehealth platforms, like Practo patients can buy medications straight from the platform and have it delivered or picked up at the pharmacy.
An admin panel helps to manage the whole platform and both sides. If you are just starting out, you can do some actions manually thus saving some money. For example, if you want to implement recurring billing, admins can send notifications manually.
7. How to Monetize a Telemedicine Platform
The commission model is a way to monetize a business by charging a fee from every payment transaction. For example, Doctor on Demand charges doctors 25% fee for patients every time they pay for a consultation.
There are different variations of a subscription model. For example, only patients would pay a fee to access a platform, either monthly or yearly, and would be charged for every service (The Arizona Telemedicine Program). Another case is when both parties pay for accessing a telehealth platform (Myca Nutrition).
SaaS (Software as a Service)
SaaS is a way to monetize a platform by offering its software to other companies based on a subscription model. Doctor on Demand, for instance, uses this model and charges a per-provider fee – around $1 per person per month. Thus, if a company has 100,000 employees, it would cost about $1.2 million every year.
With this model, a doctor or a platform sets a price per minute of medical consulting. However,per-minute billing is uncommon with telehealth platforms and more used when building expert consulting platforms
This monetization model is great for the telemedicine providers that have been for some time on the market and established a good reputation. Obviously, you can remain to belocal telehealth platform but if you would like to expand your market abilities, you can try to franchise your platform.
A franchising model implies selling rights under the brand to other providers. With a franchising model, they would need to pay a fee and follow certain rules set by the franchise owner.
Advertising shouldn’t be the only revenue model introduced on the telehealth platform. Usually, it serves as a secondary source of revenue. One of the ways to make this model work is to advertise insurance companies to those patients who don’t have coverage.
8. How to Create a Telemedicine Platform: 3 Core Ways
There are 3 ways of building a telemedicine platform:
- Custom Development
- White-label Solution
Custom Development implies building software from scratch, in our case a telehealth platform.
Pros of Custom Development
Building a telemedicine platform from scratch will give you the advantage of creating a platform with whatever functionality and look you want it to have.
With custom telemedicine app development, you’ll be able to add more functionality which is so crucial once your platform is stable and ready to grow into a fully-featured product.
Cons of Custom Development
Let’s face it, though it has undeniable advantages, it is the most expensive option to create. Even if you start with developing a Minimum Viable Product, it will still require funding for 2-3 months or even longer.
Surely, you won’t be building a fully-featured product right away. You’ll probably start with building a Minimum Viable Product. This will take around 3 to 4 months. Nevertheless, with such a huge demand on the market, 3 months may seem like a lot of time.
SaaS (Software as a Service) is a service subscription in which subscribers are provided with a ready-made software application that is fully supported by the provider. In fact, many telemedicine platforms offer this kind of service to those who also want to start a telemedicine platform.
Pro of SaaS
Since you’ll be working with the service provider, all the hustle of supporting and updating the software will be on them. Plus, you’ll be able to contact a support center if any concerns arise.
Con of SaaS
- Lack of custom abilities
That’s the thing though, you won’t be able to customize this platform perhaps as much as you’d want to. You’ll have the ability to set some basic UI and UX.
A white-label solution is a product or service that is owned by a provider which you buy, rebrand, and use as your own custom platform but without getting the intellectual rights to the platform’s codebase (so that you can’t resell the code, but can resell your own platform).
Pros of a White-Label Solution
With the white-label solution, you’ll be able to launch a telehealth platform in just a few weeks. This is a great option when it’s better not to waste the time.
What’s amazing about a white-label solution is spending less than custom development but still getting a custom telehealth platform. With white-label, you’ll be saving around 80% on telemedicine app development.
The minimum amount of time, less money, and high quality – that’s what a white-label solution is all about. So it’s in the provider’s interest to have a high-quality telemedicine software.
This feature is something that is typical to only custom development, however, you’ll be able to scale a telehealth platform with a white-label solution. Surely, some additional features will require additional costs. But you’ll be the one in control of what needs to be added to your telemedicine platform.
Con of a White-Label Solution
- Dependence on tech support
As with a SaaS solution, you’ll be dependent on the technical support of a software provider. However, unlike SaaS, you won’t need to pay monthly to get the access and support you need.
To sum up, telemedicine platforms are now extremely in demand and will be for a very long time. Millions of dollars are invested in platforms that offer the best functionality, unique propositions, and, most importantly high healthcare services by top specialists.
Obviously, the consequences of COVID-19 have kicked off the progress of and need for telemedicine services and telemedicine apps. Nevertheless, it is not something that comes and goes. These types of platforms proved themselves to be very efficient, useful, and profitable.
Before jumping into building a telemedicine platform, decide what features your platform is going to have. However, the most important thing here is to make sure that your telemedicine platform complies with the county’s/state’s regulations. Furthermore, choose the best-fitted way for your telemedicine development.