What COVID-19 Has Taught Us About the Rapid Adoption of Telemedicine

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By Todd Greene

Telemedicine is on the front line.  What was, just a few months ago, a “value-add” service has now become critical around the world.  Telehealth not only protects healthcare workers and patients during shelter-in-place, it also speeds time to consultation, improving patient outcomes and increasing the daily volume of cases that can be evaluated.  But in the rush to provide a Telehealth solution, healthcare providers are often ill-equipped to know how to choose the right solution, or whether to build one.  And time is ticking.

I work for a tech company that provides the technical underpinnings for many Telemedicine companies (a “realtime communication platform”).  Not surprisingly, since late March we’ve seen our Telehealth customers’ network usage increase exponentially in just a few weeks.  Our close collaboration with many Telemedicine companies has given us a unique perspective on what is driving successful implementations, and what criteria are important to consider as healthcare providers take the leap into the world of online healthcare.

Familiar Experiences Create a Positive “Bedside Manner”

Most patients are already savvy with popular communication apps like Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, and others.  With telemedicine, just like any other app experience, patients need to feel comfortable with the app.  The user interface needs to be familiar, and so must be the performance: video must be clear, and chat messages must go through in a flash. Patients should feel synchronized in realtime, so the participants can see and react as in the real world. 

Successful telehealth apps are adopting features that are already familiar elsewhere, like “presence awareness” (think that “green dot” on Skype) to know their provider is connected, typing indicators, read receipts, and seemingly silly things like emojis and message reactions (i.e. a “thumbs up”).  Altogether, these features provide an experience that eases the patient into a higher engagement with the app.

Moving Quickly

Telehealth is needed now.  But the good news is that the demand will not just be short term.  Telehealth is here to stay, and COVID has just introduced a billion people to the concept. Some organizations will be eager to accelerate their time-to-market by partnering with one of the many great telehealth offerings that already exist.  Great companies like Doxy.me, Relatient, and MaNaDr Mobile Health are helping handle the surge of increased demand, and choosing a proven offering should be considered seriously as healthcare providers race to go online.

Entities with their own software development teams may consider building their own telehealth offerings. Building a custom offering gives you infinite flexibility to provide a unique experience, and to customize your app to deal with any specific requirements that may be needed.  However, those who choose to build a telehealth app should also consider the other requirements necessary.

Regulatory Compliance Doesn’t Go Away

Data privacy and security is not only about establishing patient trust, it’s also the law in most jurisdictions.  Telehealth apps must remain HIPAA-compliant in the US, ensure data residency requirements in Europe and Asia, and manage a host of other regulatory needs depending on geography.  So developing your own Telehealth offering means choosing underlying technology providers that themselves meet these, and other requirements (like SOC 2 Type 2, GDPR, CCPA, and others).  

These requirements apply not just to medical records, but also to chat messages, recorded video sessions, and any other information that may be collected during the telehealth session, even the IP address of the patient’s computer.  So it’s crucial to understand the underlying technology provider’s ability to encrypt, archive, and/or purge data, as well as how the provider deals with data residency, logging, and ensuring that their own data center providers are also compliant.  

Meeting the Challenges of Overnight Demands

For those with existing apps and services that may have not been designed for sudden scale, telemedicine solutions need to identify how they will now handle the sudden demand of tens of thousands of daily users. The good news is there are good infrastructure providers that can be “swapped in” underneath their existing applications to help handle the sudden surge in scale.  For providers and organizations without an existing solution, they must ensure that white-labels apps they choose can scale.  If providers embark on devoting developer resources and build their own telehealth app, they should ensure they choose a realtime communication platform that not only handles the security requirements, but can also scale reliably to handle the rapid increase of patients. 

 About the Author

Todd Greene is the CEO and co-founder of PubNub, a realtime communication platform that powers thousands of leading apps globally. Todd started his career as a management consultant at PwC, and soon after, transitioned to the world of Silicon Valley startups. With a focus on unlocking new markets with Internet-based software, Todd has found success launching and leading companies delivering business, consumer, and tech infrastructure products. 

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