An app to compliment your medical practice or as the primary tool you use to engage your patients’ needs to provide the right amount of value to engage users and the expectation for healthcare app features has changed considerably in recent times. Last year, the CARES Act opened up new possibilities for healthcare apps by removing some of the red tape that hindered certain features, namely those used for telehealth services. As a result, the consensus for what constitutes a solid healthcare app, features and otherwise, has shifted to accommodate provisions set forth by this legislation.
Those considering building a healthcare app, especially those who began thinking about the notion before the pandemic took hold, will need to tailor their app around this new paradigm. First, we’re going to start by quickly looking at the CARES Act then we’ll discuss features as they relate to this effort which will become standard moving forward.
What is the CARES Act: a quick rundown of its impact on healthcare
Early last year, COVID-19 shows up uninvited all around the world and after a few months, we realize it’s a pretty big deal. Businesses with brick-and-mortar locations are ordered to close which was a disaster for all industries but especially healthcare. It’s one thing for those who are otherwise healthy that simply had to push back an annual checkup but for the 60% of Americans living with a chronic condition, it can be a matter of life and death.
Before all this, HIPAA mandates for the kind of technology that could be used for communication as well as virtual services were (and still are, to an extent) rigid. Among the many conditions a platform has to meet to even request review for HIPAA compliance, authentication is perhaps the most pressing matter. The main reason this is such an issue is because most providers whether Facebook, Google, Apple, or whoever, don’t exactly care who an account belongs to – unlike financial institutions which are subject to KYC compliance where an account has to be linked to a real human or business, none of the aforementioned or their competition have such a system in place. You could be Stacy who works as an RN in Cleveland but also have an entirely different persona online as Angelo, a reformed troublemaker from the Red Zone in Detroit whose art has a small cult following. Their only real concern is that whoever makes an account is sufficiently guarded against unauthorized access.
Subsequently, the medical industry had a sudden, immediate need for video calling solutions last year but virtually all free-to-use apps that would provide a turnkey solution for little to no cost were a no-no on paper. So, healthcare collectively comes together and says, “We get that Google Hangouts and FaceTime aren’t exactly HIPAA compliant but it’s what we have, ready to go. Please let us use this stuff for now without repercussion.” Congress, in a surprising act of competence, comes together and says, “K… brb gonna make the CARES Act real quick lol.”
Thanks to the telehealth portion of the CARES Act, the rules relaxed a bit and also opened doors for services to become viable telehealth solutions. It also fixed some issues with insurance – keeping in mind the issues surrounding authentication as described above, there was this rule in place throughout most major insurance groups that required an individual to first have an in-person visit with a healthcare provider before any virtual services would be covered.
As such, all these changes furnished by the CARES Act need to be considered (or reconsidered) if you’re thinking about creating an app for healthcare.
6 must-have healthcare app features to consider in light of the CARES Act
Minding the CARES Act and everything that’s transpired since early 2020, the following features need to be considered for your build.
1. Video calling/conferencing/chatting
Call it whatever you like!
Though your family doctor can’t physically touch you during a video call, which is necessary to perform some diagnostics, video chatting proves to be more than sufficient for assessing a patient’s health in many cases. In conjunction with existing as well as up-and-coming wearables that capably collect a myriad of health data, accurate physical assessments can be performed remotely and at a lower cost for both parties. In-person visits will likely never go away completely but implementing a system that favors virtual health services allows practices and patients to save time which translates to savings.
For mental healthcare, video chat enables professionals to conduct sessions much as they would when visiting in person. This healthcare app feature could be used to provide instant access to a provider in the case of mental health crises which can have a profound effect on those living with certain conditions and in some cases, even save a life. It’s especially helpful in managing conditions like depression and certain flavors of anxiety where patients may struggle just to leave their home – video circumvents certain mental “obstacles” that often prevent patients from following through with beneficial, scheduled appointments.
2. Secure access to records and a good search feature
Secure integration with EMR systems is empowering to patients as it allows them to look at their medical information at will. Not only does this help provide peace of mind, but it’s also clearly spelled out by HIPAA as something you need to be able to provide. Having this knowledge readily available is a key tool for enabling patients to be more proactive with their healthcare. This also drastically reduces operational costs considering the amount of labor it takes to field a call, figure out what the patient is looking for, then get it in their hands.
Too, a good search feature is essential for users to easily pull navigate directly to some item in their digital records. Among other reasons, it’s fairly common for some patients to need to connect the dots between different providers and facilities, like a family doctor and an outside lab. With intuitive self-service features, patients are perfectly equipped to handle this process themselves which proves to be preferable as it understandably contributes to peace of mind.
3. A health dashboard and wearable connectivity
One of the nice parts about building a healthcare app is that some of the work has already been for you – both Google and Apple have cost-effective, functional tools you can use to pull in data from their app. For example, when you’re treating a patient with a heart condition, additional insight into their activity level using something simple like a FitBit helps create a more detailed profile about the patient’s health. Having this data visible alongside other health data helps the patient be more proactive by clearly quantifying their performance, thus allowing them to make adjustments accordingly.
Your dashboard should clearly outline some of the most pressing vitals at a glance which should also be tethered to a gamification system. In short, most people tend to be driven when their performance is at least acknowledged. When you provide “rewards” like badges or even simple counters that track successes, this works to instill motivation to continue pursuing health or fitness goals in most people.
4. Billing system integration
Being able to collect payment using a payment processor like Stripe, Dwolla, and so on is just part of the equation. Thanks to insurance, figuring patient costs can be somewhat complex and each provider can have multiple plans that are calculated a little differently.
By leveraging provider APIs, the logic for calculating costs can be pulled into your app along with the functionality to submit claims for reimbursement. This practically eliminates most billing errors and saves an immense amount of time compared to other methods. Even for in-network insurance providers that don’t have a well-developed mechanism for integration, calculations can be manually plugged in to determine accurate pricing until said company can offer a better solution. Systems like those from Rectangle Health prove to be extremely helpful at the moment in helping bridge all these components together into a unified solution.
5. Patient community and shareable information
This can be tricky as there’s potential for abuse when a patient “overshares” certain information but the potential for good mostly outweighs the bad. For example, some individuals with certain conditions such as multiple sclerosis find it much easier to manage living with the disease when they can safely discuss their hardships and share tips within the confines of a safe, digital community. Enabling sharing functions that allow patients to, well, safely share non-PHI (Protected Healthcare Information) data to the community or even to social media can positively impact motivation. Platforms like eBridge help solve the problem of safely sharing HIPAA-protected documents and information with features like a redacting tool and more that greatly enhance the experience of participating in community discussions on health.
6. Backend ML/AI for medical imaging and more
Machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) provide immense utility through computer vision which can help spot things in X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, and beyond that can be easily looked over or in some cases, go undetected because of being mostly invisible to the human. Computer vision is incredibly accessible to the point where there’s no good reason not to have it at least double-checking your work. There’s also substantial potential for application in mental healthcare as a composite reading of certain physical parameters over time, such as heart rate, when cross-referenced against real-time data collected from a wearable can detect when someone is heading for a crisis. Though this hasn’t quite come to fruition just yet, it will become a common method for managing mental healthcare in the near future.
We’re a leading provider in healthcare app development for a reason
At Blue Label Labs, we’re constantly expanding how we develop applications by embracing forward-thinking processes to satisfy every possible end-user. We have an extensive amount of healthcare app development experience under our belt and we’re on top of emerging trends in not just the medical field, but other industries as well. Feel free to get in touch to learn more or discuss your app idea.
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