Digital Health App Development in the Post-COVID World 
Telehealth has slowly been gaining traction in the healthcare delivery industry for the past several years. There are multiple reasons for the interest in furnishing remote access to healthcare providers. These include cost savings for both healthcare providers and customers while enhancing the ability to address individuals who cannot easily access traditional facilities. In these post COVID-19 times, we all can greatly benefit from the availability of telehealth options that eliminate the need to travel to the doctor’s office or clinic.
The potential advantages of telehealth systems have not yet been manifested throughout the world’s healthcare systems. This is for several reasons that pose challenges to widespread use of telehealth solutions. Regulations regarding the privacy and security of personal information is a major concern. There is also a lack of reliable software tools and applications that facilitate the interaction of patients and healthcare providers. Development using the WebRTC open framework can help address this problem by introducing new and reliable communication solutions.
The Emergence of COVID-19
The COVID-19 worldwide pandemic has presented a compelling reason for an increase in the speed with which society proceeds with the adoption of telehealth and telemedicine solutions. The extremely contagious nature of the coronavirus has made it imperative to reduce the population’s exposure to individuals who may be carrying the disease. Governmental response to the pandemic has resulted in unprecedented changes in the way the world functions.
Some of these changes will hopefully only need to be implemented for a limited amount of time. Many jurisdictions are enforcing emergency healthcare regulations in 2020 that ban elective surgeries or non-critical procedures to conserve healthcare capacity to treat those afflicted with COVID-19. Regulations affecting healthcare during the pandemic are also designed to stem the spread of the virus. One way of accomplishing this is with digital health app development to foster the safe delivery of remote health solutions.
As a result of the pandemic, current trends in telemedicine are undergoing substantial changes. Citizens are interested in availing themselves of telehealth options as a protective measure against the virus. At the same time, healthcare providers see an opportunity to further their portfolio of solutions that can be used both during the COVID-19 emergency and far into the future once the pandemic is brought under control.
Regulatory Barriers to Telehealth Implementation
Healthcare presents many regulatory issues that do not apply to other industries. Recent trends in telemedicine that existed before COVID-19 are responsible for new standards being put in place in many jurisdictions. Let’s take a look at the German healthcare system as an illustrative example.
The German physicians' code of conduct prohibits telemedicine without prior in-person consultation. This drove many Germans to take advantage of services provided by other nations in accordance with EU laws. Reimbursement through the public health insurance systems which handle 90% of the population was found to be challenging when applied to telemedicine.
The German Digital Healthcare Act (DVG) was adopted in November of 2019 by the government to help facilitate the use of telehealth products and services by the German people. The act requires insurers to pay for qualified digital health applications that meet the following criteria.
- Low-risk medical devices are involved;
- The application is based primarily on digital technologies;
- The apps are used to monitor and treat patients;
- Apps must register with the German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices;
- The apps are used by prescription or with the approval of a health insurer;
The Act paves the way for more widespread use of telehealth solutions in Germany and can serve as a roadmap for other nations to follow. The DVG is meant to accelerate the adoption of telemedicine throughout the nation. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, restrictions have been lifted that limited the percentage of patients who could be seen remotely by a healthcare provider. It also requires all telehealth solutions to comply with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) regarding the privacy and security of personal information.
Factors That Affect Future Telemedicine Software Development
There are undoubtedly many opportunities for software providers to concentrate on telemedicine development for the benefit of society and their company’s bottom-line. In the wake of the pandemic, the advantages of telehealth are more evident than ever before and the demand for more reliable and feature-rich health-related applications will continue to grow.
Several considerations need to be addressed by organizations engaged in webRTC application development or designing other solutions that enable healthcare providers and consumers to interact remotely. In some cases, these factors will be handled differently once the pandemic is fully under control and things return to the “normal” state of the world before COVID-19.
- Data privacy and security is of critical importance in the healthcare field as the personal information shared by patients needs to be vigorously protected. The enforcement of certain regulations, such as those specified in the United States’ Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), has been modified to allow healthcare practitioners to provide access to patients without adhering to all of the Act’s guidelines. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis, these guidelines will again be enforced and telehealth products will need to comply with the regulatory standards of the jurisdictions in which their products are used.
- Practitioner licensing is another area that has been impacted by COVID-19. Again looking at the U.S. as an example, regulations that affect healthcare practitioners offering services across state lines have been modified to allow care to be given where it is needed. After the pandemic, a return to the prior regulatory landscape is expected and state licensing will need to be addressed by practitioners and their software applications and tools.
- Telemedicine and reimbursement is a topic that is important to both consumers and providers. Changes in the way states and the federal government are handling telemedicine visit reimbursement during the pandemic are making it easier for patients to access healthcare related to COVID-19 as well as digital mental health services and other important medical resources. It is likely that reimbursement guidelines will be revisited when the coronavirus crisis is over. Organizations involved in developing telemedicine app development solutions need to keep this in mind and build the proper functionality into the products they deliver.
One potentially positive outcome of the world’s grim struggle with COVID-19 is a greater acceptance of telehealth by patients, providers, and regulatory agencies. It may lead companies to hire WebRTC developers and software engineers to create the products that allow telemedicine to fulfil its promise. Using technology in this way demonstrates its ability to impact the world in a positive way.