Industry Voices—The future of digital health depends on how well it improves patient engagement

A computer webcam.
Telemedicine serves consumers with specific needs, such as those in rural areas who cannot or would prefer not to travel hours for a 15-minute appointment. (Image: Getty/Talaj)

The success of digital health ultimately relies less on advanced technology than on whether or not it improves an individual’s health and their ability to engage in their own health.

Take telemedicine. At Spectrum Health, we’ve seen an enormous increase in the use of telemedicine. In a few years, more individuals will see their doctors virtually than in the doctor’s office or hospital.

It’s not just a more efficient and cost-effective way to care for people. Telemedicine offers greater convenience and better access for everyone and sometimes it’s the only way to provide much-needed care.

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Clearly, flu season has shown the benefits of telemedicine: We can get a diagnosis and, if applicable, a prescription virtually rather than spend the time and effort to take ourselves or our children to a doctor’s office filled with other sick people.

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Tina Freese Decker (Spectrum Health)

We have seen telemedicine visits rise sharply as a result. Enabling quicker and easier access to care can mean feeling better sooner and fewer missed days from work or school.

Telemedicine also serves consumers with specific needs, such as those in rural areas who cannot or would prefer not to travel hours for a 15-minute appointment. There is great convenience in being able to get care virtually rather than spending time travelling, parking and waiting in the office.

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Another way to leverage digital tools is by using portals, apps and other innovations to create a stronger personal connection with individuals.

Our portal, which among its many features enables patients and their family caregivers to make appointments or check the latest doctor’s notes and diagnoses, test results and treatment orders. It also allows us to meet patients where they areat home, at work or on their communications deviceand helps them more actively manage their health.

As a result, individuals find it easier and more convenient to schedule an appointment or access important medical information.

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Additionally, telemonitoring with implantable and wearable devices is an efficient, time and money savings solution that will become increasingly common largely because it will improve people’s health. The devices, which include cuffs to measure blood pressure and otoscopes to look into ears, will be a boon to those with chronic health issues.

The great promise of digital health is to make it easier and more intuitive for people to manage their health and own their choices. Ultimately, more engaged patients are healthier individuals and that’s the best outcome for all of us.

Tina Freese Decker is Executive Vice President and COO of Spectrum Health, a $6 billion integrated health system with a hospital group, medical group and health plan based in Michigan.