Digital Patient Engagement and Telehealth to Improve Patient Care

July 17, 2014 Audrey Dalton

As I walked the exhibition halls of HIMSS14, I couldn’t help but think of my grandfather, a medical doctor from rural Brazil during the WWII era.

I wonder how amazed and perhaps overwhelmed he would be faced with a vast array of technology solely focused on improving patient care.  From pen to stylus or paper to tablet, it would seem like he traveled a millennia into the future, not just over 70 years. But if he were practicing now, with today’s advances in telemedicine/ telehealth as well as digital patient engagement, he could see more patients and spend more time with them while improving their care through virtual healthcare technology.

Apps, Avatars, and Advice: The Engaged Patient

A great emphasis at HIMSS14 was on the connected patient and the new technologies available to advance patient engagement.

Health Management Kiosk at HIMSS14

Specifically, health education, health management, and self-service. As components of patient portals, these innovations are playing key roles for establishing Meaningful Use Stage 1Stage 2, and Stage 3 incentives.

As advancements and regulations progress, Nancy Fabozzi, Health Principal Analyst from Frost & Sullivan, speaks of the Patient Portal 2.0 and predicts it will have even more “robust functions such as health information exchange across diverse care settings, integration of clinical and financial data, dynamic scheduling, social networking, gaming, and avatars for personalized health coaching, and e-visits.” And from what I saw at HIMSS14, much of this technology is already in play.

Consumers are currently able to…

  • Reach their care teams in real-time and
    Cisco Extended Care Platform
    collaborate with multi-party video conferencing over any device with solutions like Cisco® Extended Care 1.0.
Health Advisor Myra is a lifestyle health coach
who assists patients with completing a Health Risk Assessment.

What’s Old is New gain: The Connected Patient

Believe it or not, modern day telemedicine started in the 1960s where one might consider to be the most rural of areas—deep space.

In the early 1960s, NASA deployed telemetered technology from both the spacecraft and the space suits during NASA space flights

Since then, telemedicine rapidly evolved due to the introduction of the Internet.

Deep Space Station, courtesy of flysinger

In 1997, telemedicine was defined by the Telemedicine Information Exchange as the “use of electronic signals to transfer medical data (photographs, x-ray images, audio, patient records, videoconferences, etc.) from one site to another via the Internet, Intranets, PCs, satellites, or videoconferencing telephone equipment in order to improve access to health care.”

1960s Space Suit Gear, courtesy of San Diego Air & Space Museum

As a natural outgrowth, telehealth was born to include patient care and education delivered via email, mHealth devices, apps, patient portals, interactive video conferencing, and Internet or electronically enabled patient engagement tools.

Initially, telehealth/medicine evolved out of the need for access to healthcare and medical consultations in rural areas. Rural areas are typically underserved with perhaps only one physician serving thousands of patients. In fact, only 10% of all physicians in the U.S. live in rural areas, but they support 25% of the population.

According to the American Telemedicine Association…

  • There are 200 telemedicine networks with 3,500 service sites in the US.
  • Nearly 1 million Americans are currently using remote cardiac monitors.
  • Over half of all U.S. hospitals now use some form of telemedicine with over 10 million receiving some form of telehealth/medicine.
  • Around the world, millions of patients use telemedicine to monitor their vital signs, remain healthy, and stay out of hospitals and emergency rooms.
Telemedicine Consult, courtesy of Wikipedia



Telepresence Robotic Surgery, courtesy of


With telehealth/medicine, physicians benefit from remote consults to help diagnose and treat patients. Likewise, patients benefit from specialist referrals, direct patient care, and remote monitoring from just a few or thousands of miles away. And both parties benefit from improved care, quality of time, and health.

The results speak for themselves:

  • Home monitoring of chronic diseases is reducing hospital visits by as much as 50% by keeping patients stable through daily monitoring.
  • The national average for re-admission to hospitals within 30 days following a heart failure episode is 20%. Telehealth monitoring programs have reduced that level to less than 4%.

Whether health management or telehealth, consumers are demanding access to these tools because they know they can achieve greater health, wellness, and medical financial goals. Likewise, providers are jumping on board as they learn these patient engagement tools will activate, motivate, and help their patients manage chronic conditions, avoid catastrophic care and readmissions, and ultimately create a better patient experience.

In her HIMSS14 keynote speech, Hillary Clinton succinctly asked, “How might we replace once and for all our fee-for-service model, with provider-led community-wide care that can compete on quality and value over volume?”

I think we have our answer.

About the Author

Audrey Dalton

Audrey holds nearly 10 years of B2B/B2C sales, marketing, and communications experience. She manages the content strategy and development for multimedia campaigns and digital marketing programs at CodeBaby. She also has wistful aspirations to be a globetrotting mega DJ.

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