Building patient first telehealth with realtime communication features


COVID-19 has restricted analogue patient care. Despite effort to future-proof public health digitally, realtime communication hurdles remain.


Healthcare tech is one of the fastest growing areas in software development. The global pandemic has shown us the limits of analogue care, and extra emphasis is already being put on future-proofing public health with more robust digital facilities. The market for Telehealth – where patients receive medical consultations via the internet – is projected to reach $175 billion by 2026.

So how did digital healthcare solutions go from fad to foundational? And what considerations do product managers need to make as they look to win over the remaining sceptics of remote patient care?

Many of the concerns remaining in the digital healthcare landscape – particularly during this time of social distancing – have to do with safeguarding patient wellbeing and ensuring there are appropriate avenues available for connection.

In this article, we’ll consider some of the opportunities for improving user experience in healthcare apps by integrating realtime communication features.

First, let’s look at the recent changes in the industry which have brought about this rapid growth.

Late bloomers

As recently as 2017, research from Nuffield Trust argued that healthcare was at least a decade behind other industries in its adoption of digital technology. Legacy systems put severe restrictions on digital interoperability; the sharing of data was limited by important regulatory legislation and often proved too slow to provide real value to doctors. Many also expressed an anxiety that, were technology allowed to take over healthcare, it would remove the vital human element.

Given the universality of healthcare, and the fact that the industry is responsible for a third of all data generated worldwide, it was clear that technology could and should be put to better use in the sector.

Subsequent years saw a concerted effort from both governments and private businesses to resolve these first two problems: cloud computing and end-to-end encryption facilitated rapid improvements in the legal and secure sharing of Electronic Health Records, while an increased focus on interoperability led to much more fluid, better connected systems – often referred to as the Internet Of Medical Things (IoMT).

These innovations have led to healthcare tech being taken increasingly seriously.

Consider wearables: when initially introduced, most of us considered them a fad, used solely by individuals with an unhealthy interest in their own step count. Today such products can monitor our vital signs; detect atrial fibrillation; measure Body Mass Index fluctuations; and use biosensor technology to detect when you’re about to get sick. Future iterations will be able to make use of Big Data to predict with accuracy when a whole variety of ailments are coming our way.

However, this emphasis on developing the technical capacity of products has meant that work on meeting psychological and emotional requirements for healthcare has somewhat lagged behind.

There are many avenues of growth for healthcare apps and online platforms today: from allowing patients to order prescriptions online and facilitating smoother virtual consultations to providing support networks for those suffering with specific ailments and helping patients better understand their symptoms.

The events of 2020 have furthered the development of these kinds of systems especially. COVID-19 has triggered a dramatic rise in the adoption of remote care platforms across the world as people look for alternative solutions to in-person care.

The most popular apps – those which have achieved widespread adoption – consistently foreground usability and provide a natural user experience for all parties.

Smart designers, developers and product managers must understand the emotional needs of Telehealth users and the outstanding limitations of digital practice.

Sharing is caring

Healthcare is uniquely intimate; the trust and security patients feel with their doctors can be as critical as the medical intervention itself. The quality of communication between practitioners and their patients strongly correlates with positive health outcomes, and because medical efficacy so often relies on patients’ willingness to follow a particular course of action, regular feedback and dialogue is unquestionably necessary for effective treatment.

Consistent, meaningful interaction with a healthcare professional is not simply edifying. It is extremely reassuring for patients and provides a vital sense of authority. The ability to ask questions, have challenging concepts clarified and generally have feelings validated by a trained professional can make all the difference. Developers are quickly coming to understand this.

A great example of an app doing communication well is MDLive. MDLive connects users with healthcare professionals 24/7 and facilitates easy, regular communication through live chat. It has gained a large user-base and become one of the most popular Telehealth apps on the market.

Live chat allows patients to receive active remote care, while also fulfilling the need for connection with their clinician. This ultimately results in better patient satisfaction and more successful provision of care.

Speed of communication is also vital: for patients nervously awaiting guidance, a delayed response really is its own response, and can seriously exacerbate stress, creating further complication.

As with all apps, even the slightest latency disrupts user experience and often causes users to give up on an app; in sensitive use cases like healthcare, this could have dramatic ramifications. MDLive has an average wait time of less than 15 minutes, and can attribute a large part of its success to that fact.

It isn’t only patients whose experience is improved by faster, more frequent communication. Practitioners’ lives are also made far less stressful by instant access to data and communication resources.

Caring is connecting

Even minor disruptions to information flow and communication can cause serious problems in healthcare: according to a study from The Joint Commission, 80% of medical errors are a result of poor communication in patient handoffs between providers.

Practitioners are acutely aware of this, and are very careful only to adopt technology which will actively improve the speed and accuracy of their communication and data gathering.

Consider Doximity, an app aimed at clinicians. It helps them communicate quickly and securely with colleagues to gain relevant information and advice, as well as making the Telehealth process more straightforward from the healthcare provider’s perspective.

More than 70% of all U.S. doctors use Doximity, in large part because it provides a realtime connection which make their jobs both easier and more effective.

Doximity facilitates telehealth consultations with far less friction than other platforms. When patients join a scheduled call, the platform sends a notification. This minimises the amount of time spent waiting around, allowing clinicians to be more efficient and ultimately tend to more patients.

It isn’t only communicating with patients and peers that practitioners are interested in. With the increasing digitisation of hospitals, many medics find the amount of data they have to deal with overwhelming, making data transfer more difficult and ultimately distracting from the urgency of their work.

Making data more manageable in realtime has a huge impact on understanding and retention. Live dashboards which dynamically visualize complex historical information alongside realtime data allow users to process and monitor updates much more efficiently. Coherent data communication can be hugely beneficial for professionals who must make crucial informed analysis in demanding situations.

Ultimately, both patients and doctors benefit in a huge variety of way from the immediacy of realtime. As we come to expect such speed and instant gratification in other areas of our lives, they will only become more essential to effectively satisfy any user.

The window of opportunity

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only revealed the importance of more effective healthcare technology. It has also demonstrated the vitality of connection. Creating services which cater to both of these needs and understand the important ways they interrelate is crucial for patients.

The ground for bringing user value to the Telehealth industry is incredibly fertile, with a global testing base currently on offer. As people adapt to new systems of communication with practitioners, now is the perfect time to be examining the real value of platforms and ensure those in need have the most effective channels to receive correct support.

Pusher helps developers with exceptionally quick and easy integration of realtime communication features such as live chats, dashboards and notifications. You can display the data all of your users need when they need it, and additional features such as online presence and typing indicators help to make interactions feel more intimate.

Choosing an off-the-shelf API to do the heavy lifting for your realtime infrastructure features leaves you with more time to focus on patient care strategy. Pusher Channels also offers end-to-end encryption, so you can be confident that your users sensitive data is protected and easily achieve HIPAA compliance.