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With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting in-person interaction, healthcare providers turned to makeshift solutions to facilitate telehealth patient visits. During Q1 2020, the number of telehealth visits increased by 50% compared to the previous quarter. That number continues to rise.
Yet, the patients’ and providers’ experience with many telehealth platforms has been less than ideal. Additionally, general-purpose, video-conferencing solutions—not built specifically for use in virtual care or integration into healthcare workflows—are insufficient.
Virtual care, however, is here to stay. This is why it is critical for providers to have in place a solid digital engagement platform to keep up with patient demand and maintain loyalty.
Why is building your own telehealth platform important?
As the global telemedicine market will reach an estimated $192 billion by 2025, many organizations are choosing to build an in-house telehealth platform instead of using an off-the-shelf solution. This will allow them to have more control over patients’ and providers’ experiences and build a seamless integration of the telehealth platform into the existing workflow.
For these organizations, a custom-built, state-of-the-art telehealth video experience becomes both a way to facilitate virtual care and differentiate the care provided.
In this article, we’ll consider the key points for building a telehealth platform that delights your users, including:
- The core features of a modern telehealth platform
- The technology involved in building a telehealth video solution
- The key considerations for the provider and patient experience
- The practical next steps for getting started
The modern telehealth platform
The modern telehealth platform facilitates a synchronous experience, with the patient and the provider engaging in a live discussion over video or voice. Patients may receive an appointment reminder, sign on to a portal, go through onboarding steps, and then join the video or voice visit at the scheduled time. For on-demand visits, a patient requests to be connected to an available provider, then waits in a virtual waiting room until a provider becomes available.
Features for a memorable video experience
The pandemic has evolved video chat into a normative experience, with an estimated 81% of Americans using video conferencing during this unprecedented time. This implies that patients and providers already have expectations for what a basic video experience ought to include. Beyond providing the bare necessities of a microphone, camera controls, or screen sharing, building a memorable video experience for users (telehealth or otherwise) should also include these features:
- A waiting room for participants before being admitted to the call
- The ability to invite a third party to join the video session
- An audio-only session or ability to allow users to dial in
- The ability to record sessions, with secure storage and downloading of recordings
When looking at telehealth platforms specifically, additional considerations come to the surface:
- A virtual waiting room to provide patients with educational content or an estimated wait time
- The ability for patients to invite a family member or caregiver—via email or SMS—to join the telehealth visit
- A language interpreter if a patient and provider speak different languages or either party relies on sign language
- An integration with existing electronic health records or electronic medical records systems
- The ability to transfer health data from wearables or home monitoring devices to providers
Twilio Programmable Video and Group Room topology
Twilio’s Programmable Video API allows developers to build a video platform solution using WebRTC while abstracting away lower-level details. Instead, developers can focus on customizing their implementation around video session connections and events.
In addition, Twilio’s Network Traversal Service provides STUN and TURN capabilities to support WebRTC. Lastly, companies building video platforms with Twilio can take advantage of Twilio’s Group Room topology, which uses SFU to facilitate low-latency, high-capacity communication between participants in a group video session.
Understanding the provider and the patient experience
The ideal provider and patient experience will dictate whether you should develop a web application, which can be accessed anywhere via an internet connection, or a desktop application, which may not require a constant internet connection for some of its functionality.
Some hospitals or clinics may restrict providers from accessing web applications, only allowing the installation of approved desktop applications. Yet, most telehealth applications today are web applications, and building a desktop application alone will likely not be enough to accommodate access for mobile devices.
One approach is to build a web application first and then build a desktop application using Electron. This provides a wrapper around your web application that allows you to develop a desktop application with technologies familiar to web developers. Additionally, this phased approach to building a desktop application with Electron may reduce the effort needed for software development.
When considering the patient experience, bear in mind that patients may balk at being asked to download and install yet another application—especially as most don’t have telehealth visits that often. This is what makes building a native mobile application challenging: The different skills needed between Android and iOS application development and the hurdles for publishing applications to the respective app stores. In addition, native device APIs (for example, cameras, microphones, geolocations, or sensors) and permissions may also be necessary for your telehealth application.
For patients who prefer to use audio-only, you will want to add an optional phone number to dial into the virtual care conference. However, bear in mind that supporting a dial-in option would require using the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) interoperability feature within a WebRTC video room.
Build with existing tools
Concrete next steps
Whether you are integrating a telehealth solution into your existing workflow or building a brand-new, standalone video telehealth solution, here are a few good starting points.
First, you should leverage SDKs and APIs from Twilio to control every user interaction and integrate your solution seamlessly with your existing application.
To decrease your time to market, leverage tools from Twilio for building features essential to modern telehealth, including:
- A virtual waiting room
- A third-party invitation functionality
- An appointment reminder feature
- A voice-only calling feature in case of failing video connectivity
Lastly, consider the implications of building for HIPAA compliance. We provide products that are HIPAA eligible, including Twilio Video APIs, that our customers can use to build HIPAA compliant solutions. Twilio signs a Business Associate Addendum (BAA) for customers that plan on using Twilio to build solutions subject to HIPAA.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift in digital communication in healthcare, and telehealth is quickly becoming a normative approach to providing healthcare. A scalable and customizable telehealth platform sets up healthcare organizations strategizing for long-term, hybrid care.
As your organization pivots toward building a video-enabled telehealth platform, understanding the core features and required technology that make up a modern telehealth platform is critical. By leveraging a rich set of SDKs and APIs from Twilio Video, you will be equipped to build a fully fledged and memorable video experience for your users—both patients and providers alike.
Please visit https://www.twilio.com/solutions/healthcare for more information on Twilio for healthcare.