Published: January 5, 2021
Telemedicine software is an integral component of the rapidly expanding field of telehealth. Healthcare providers use telemedicine software to connect with their patients, and in certain cases, each other, to provide virtual clinical care.
There are multiple types of telemedicine software solutions used for different purposes. Real-time telemedicine allows patients and physicians to communicate synchronously through a video, audio, or chatroom platform. Conversely, store-and-forward telemedicine software facilitates asynchronous communication between patients and physicians, as both parties can exchange messages and medical data, such as photos, X-rays, and MRIs, on their own schedule.
Remote patient monitoring incorporates software and medical devices to record patient data, such as blood pressure, heart rate, or blood sugar, and transmit it to a physician. Interactive patient engagement systems are used onsite in hospitals and healthcare facilities, and also combine software and hardware like TVs and tablets to provide education and assistance to patients.
Choosing the right telemedicine software program for your practice can be a big job. Before you make a decision, understand the types of telemedicine software, and the settings where they’re best suited.
What Type of Telemedicine Software is Right for You?
Each type of telemedicine software serves a different function and can be used individually or in conjunction with each other, depending on the specific needs of the practice or facility. Finding the right telemedicine software solution usually starts with identifying the process or issue you wish to improve.
Remote patient monitoring
Remote patient monitoring runs the gamut from popular smartphone apps that track vitals and activity to sophisticated biosensors that can record and transmit real-time data about a patient’s condition. Ultimately, they all allow physicians and other healthcare practitioners to monitor patients from a distance.
This type of telemedicine software is useful for people with chronic conditions that need to be monitored, as well as patients who have recently been discharged from a hospital after an illness or operation. Rather than requiring patients to return to the hospital or doctor’s office for check-ups, physicians can use remote patient monitoring software and equipment to keep an eye on a patient’s recovery or condition from home. Using remote patient monitoring can improve efficiency and responsiveness, identifying problems while reducing the need for in-person appointments with patients.
Store-and-forward telemedicine software primarily consists of secure electronic communications systems through which patients and providers can exchange written, audio, and video messages; photographs; X-rays; MRIs, and more. While it can be used in just about any area of medical practice, store-and-forward telemedicine is perhaps best suited for specialities like radiology, pathology, dermatology, ophthalmology, and other non-emergency consultations.
The two key benefits of store-and-forward telemedicine are accessibility and convenience. Because this technology facilitates asynchronous communication, users can submit and respond to information or questions whenever is convenient for them. It offers physicians a faster way to assess a patient’s needs and make a treatment recommendation than requiring an in-person visit. Physicians can also use store-and-forward software to facilitate consultations between each other. For example, a team of doctors, some of whom may be located in different physical locations, can use store-and-forward technology to share information about a patient, which makes it easier to coordinate a care plan.
Real-time telemedicine solutions consist of video and teleconferencing software that allow providers and patients to communicate synchronously. This type of telemedicine most closely resembles a traditional doctor’s appointment, except that the patient and doctor are in two separate locations.
While real-time telemedicine software may seem a lot like more familiar types of audio and video conferencing software, there are some differences. The type of software used for real-time telemedicine must comply with HIPAA regulations for protecting patients’ privacy and securing their data. To that end, software designed specifically for use as a real-time telemedicine platform has extra layers of protection and security built in that standard video and teleconferencing software does not.
These platforms often have additional built-in functionality, including tools for appointment scheduling, ePrescribing, patient record management, and billing, so they are a convenient all-in-one solution for practices offering telemedicine services. Real-time telemedicine software can be installed, cloud-based, or app-based.
While most telemedicine software is meant to connect patients and providers in different locations, there are also programs that can be used within hospitals, clinics, and other facilities to streamline workflows and improve patient care.
Some types of on-site telemedicine software overlaps with other solutions. Comprehensive platforms for scheduling, billing, prescribing, and real-time conferencing can be used by physicians, nurses, administrative staff, and patients.
Other solutions are more specific to a setting, like a hospital. For example, many hospitals have started implementing interactive patient engagement solutions, which combine specially-designed interactive software with equipment like tablets and TVs to provide more effective ways for patients to request assistance for non-clinical concerns, and learn about their aftercare requirements for when they are discharged.
Utilizing this type of telemedicine software has short-term benefits, like giving nurses and other staff more time to focus on clinical and administrative tasks, as well as long-term benefits, like improving patient outcomes after they leave the hospital, which lowers readmission rates.
Telemedicine Software Features
Here are some of the key features to consider when selecting a telemedicine software solution:
Telemedicine providers should make sure software is compliant with the HIPAA guidelines for telemedicine. Essential security measures for telemedicine software include only allowing authorized users to have access to patients’ electronic Protected Health Information (ePHI); encrypting data that is sent between patients and providers, and having an automatic log-off protocol in place in case someone forgets to log out of a shared device. There should also be protocols in place for storing patient data on secure servers.
Software that isn’t user-friendly can be the difference between a solution that makes your life easier, and a solution that makes your life harder. When choosing telemedicine software, ensure that the product is user-friendly both for your staff and patients. Reputable telemedicine software companies will provide demos or trials so you get a feel for the software and determine ease of use. If patients will be using the software, staff should be confident that they can easily explain the setup and use to patients.
This factor is related to user-friendliness. What is the setup process like for this software? For some web-based platforms, there may be little or no setup. It may be as simple as logging into a website or installing a program. Other solutions, especially ones that require special equipment, may take longer to set up and implement. It’s also important to consider what the patient’s experience with this software will be. Will they have to install software on their end, and if so, is that a complicated process? Remember, telemedicine solutions are meant to make it easier to deliver care, not harder.
Training and tech support
Another relevant factor to consider is what kind of training is required, and what kind of tech support the software provider offers. Will staff have to attend training sessions to learn how to use this software, or can they learn as they go with manuals and tutorials? Consider what kind of learning curve your staff will face when selecting telemedicine software products. Also understand what, if any, tech support the software company provides. A telemedicine software issue can be inconvenient at best, and life-threatening at worst, so it’s crucial to have reliable support.
Many telemedicine software solutions are designed to be comprehensive telehealth platforms that allow providers to handle multiple tasks in one central hub. Depending on your needs, you can look for a telemedicine software solution that allows you or patients to schedule appointments, send appointment confirmations and reminders, manage electronic health records, submit orders for prescriptions to an on-site or off-site pharmacy, and integrate with your billing and reimbursement system. If you already have telemedicine software solutions in place, and are adding a new platform, confirm that the two systems will work with each other, if necessary.
The bottom line is always a major consideration, especially for facilities planning to use telemedicine to lower operating costs and boost revenue. There are a number of costs associated with implementing telemedicine software. Licensing costs can vary depending on how many individual licenses a practice needs. Depending on the type of telemedicine software you are implementing, you will also likely need some type of equipment, whether it’s computers, cameras, tablets, or remote patient monitoring devices. There will be one-time costs associated with training and implementation, as well as ongoing costs like internet access to support these systems.
Leading telemedicine software options include:
Mend: Mend is a telemedicine suite with patient scheduling, voice and video calling, and automated processes including online forms.
OnCall Health: You can use OnCall Health to access group video, instant messaging, and practice automation on any device or browser for secure virtual care.
Updox: Updox provides HIPAA-compliant video conferencing that works on any device with no waiting rooms. Take photos, save notes, and use secure texting to communicate with patients.
NextGen: Virtual visits integrate with visit management, post-visit followup, and overall health management using NextGen.
Doxy.me: Free to use and secure, Doxy.me makes it easy to meet with patients virtually and share files.