Due in large part to the pandemic, telemedicine is here to stay.
This is good news, as having telemedicine system components that allow remote doctor/patient consultations and visits has provided more access to healthcare as well as making it quicker and more convenient than a trip to the nearest hospital.
However, in order to build a system architecture that is secure, reliable, and user-friendly, many things need to be considered.
In this article, we’ll describe how a telemedicine system operates and its major components along with challenges in the development and implementation in a hospital or healthcare network.
What is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine is generally defined as the system of networks, software, and computers that allow a patient to schedule an appointment and have video and/or audio consultation with a health practitioner.
The practitioner should be able to use the system to order any necessary prescriptions as well as access the patient’s electronic health records and document/record the visit.
The doctor or nurse should also have the ability to be able to refer the patient to a specialist, if necessary, transferring all the necessary information.
Security and transparency is also a very important part of the telemedicine system architecture.
By law, patient medical records must be private and protected from hackers; doctors and nurses that use it should be verified as being licensed by the state.
Additionally, if things go wrong, such as a no-show from the patient or doctor, the appropriate steps need to be taken to prevent the insurer from being billed for something that didn’t occur.
It’s best if emergency systems are also integrated into telemedicine platform architecture, so that if the practitioner needs to call an ambulance, they can quickly alert a public or private service that is in the patient’s vicinity and take them to the hospital.
Certain situations also require telementoring, which is the ability for another doctor or specialist to be alerted and connected so they can further assist with diagnosis or monitoring outcomes.
Telemedicine Platform Architecture
As far as hardware is concerned, telemedicine involves at least a camera with a microphone on both ends.
More advanced forms of telemedicine integrate “smart” devices and sensors that can provide things such as blood pressure or heart rate to the remote physician.
The system can also have passive monitoring systems that can send an emergency alert if there are sudden changes in the patient’s condition that need immediate attention.
The hospital or medical center should have a physical data center in the form of servers and databases that can then safely transmit the information to and from patients and practitioners. However, many centers large and small are opting to store data remotely in cloud services, which can offer more computing power at a better price point.
Smart Scheduling & Workflow
Scheduling is a core component of telemedicine. The software must be able to have access to the availability of the staff, be able to create an appointment, and then block out the appropriate time frame to prevent double booking. If an appointment is cancelled, advanced systems can help fill the vacant time with a waiting list, saving the hospital money.
Workflow is also highly important as it helps make the hospital as efficient as possible. This means that everything must be connected digitally, including EHR and billing. This way, the patient can connect with the correct practitioner at the correct time, who will have access to all the information they need.
The ultimate goal is for the patient and doctor to have almost the same experience as if they were in the same room together.
Building a Telemedicine Platform
Creating a system from scratch is challenging and expensive, especially doing it in-house. And trying to roll out all components at once can be a very heavy lift for both IT and staff.
One of the best solutions is to begin by using a modified version of existing conferencing software which can create a solid base from which to expand.
At S-PRO, we’ve done quite a bit of research into video conferencing software, some of which we include below.
Google Hangouts and Skype
We do not recommend either of these popular platforms as they do not have an API, which means they can’t be integrated into your website or system.
This is our number one choice, as it only requires about 30-40 hours on the backend.
While it doesn’t work with Safari, it is commonplace enough that a lot of people are familiar with it and can use the app; it also has a good SDK and Rest-api for application integration.
However, since storage on Zoom is expensive, we usually recommend downloading the videos and saving on your own server.
This is a good second choice as it requires just 25-30 hours for the backend and 10 for DevOps, for a total of 40 hours.
It can also be integrated to your website using SDK, or you can use the web or phone application.
It has all the features of Google Hangouts and good documentation; however, it is more expensive than Zoom.
As a third option, Cisco’s WebEx is very similar to Zoom in terms of pricing and capabilities, but takes slightly longer to integrate; this is largely due to poor documentation.
It also doesn’t have a direct link to the conference, instead putting users in a “waiting room”; however this could also be seen as more akin to a real visit to the doctor’s office.
On the plus side, you can keep up to 10 gb of video in the cloud.
Telemedicine is the “new normal” in digital health.
Telemedicine systems can be quite complex, giving patients and practitioners an experience that is the next best thing to a physical visit.
For hospitals and facilities looking to upgrade their systems, it’s best to start with video conferencing and expand from there.
At S-PRO, we are very experienced in configuring and building telemedicine systems.
We can advise you on the components you need as well as get you up and running in a very short amount of time.
If you’re interested, contact a representative today.