EHealth: Getting started with digital care with ease

30 June 2016

"Ease." This is the word I hear most often when I talk with people who are satisfied with the use of eHealth as an aid to dealing with an illness or disability. Is this a luxury? Or is there more to it than that? In this blog I discuss tips to help medical health professionals get started with eHealth.

Digital care valuable to patients

The more questions I ask, the clearer it becomes: The statement "eHealth offers ease" means that users can maintain or regain energy, freedom, and independence. Or, to put it another way, they do not have to waste energy on the details of organizing care, and they can live a life that is as normal as possible, surrounded by loved ones, despite the limitations of their illness or disability.

"The statement 'eHealth offers ease' means that users can maintain or regain energy, freedom, and independence."

I frequently talk with people who have to deal with the consequences of serious illness or disability on a daily basis, and what I hear never fails to move me. They tell me what a difference digital applications have made in their lives and in the lives of their loved ones. And the most incredible part is that usually they're not talking about huge, complex applications. The applications that make the biggest difference to them are applications that are useful, easy to use, and clearly explained - and that offer a way to ask for help if there's something they can't figure out.

The daily reality and future of eHealth

Technological advancements are taking place at an incredible speed - and that includes developments offering possibilities for health care. The media is full of reports on robots, big data, virtual environments, and other innovative technologies. But if we look around at our own lives, it's clear that being able to do things like contacting a doctor or nurse digitally, reading the results of a test online, or measuring your vital signs at home and sending them to the doctor is anything but self-evident.

The scarce availability of digital health services in the Netherlands despite massive efforts in this area is revealed by recent studies (including the Dutch nationwide eHealth Monitor and the study eHealth Meetlat Brabant in the province of North Brabant). This is remarkable, because digital health services involve technology that has long been available.

EHealth applications: an overview

What do we mean when we talk about digital services? Below we provide an overview of digital applications that will help to understand them in terms of care processes rather than technology.

  • E-information: The use of websites, social media, and apps to gain information about health and health care.
  • E-prevention: The use of digital aids to deal with or prevent illness, such as nutrition apps, fitness trackers, or self-tests.
  • E-service: Digital "convenience services" provided by health care providers, such as being able to go online to request prescription refills, make appointments, access medical files, or request test results.
  • E-care: The use of internet applications for health care or self-care, such as e-consultations, cContact, measuring blood pressure at home, or online coaching in cases of depression.
  • E-living: The use of technology at home with the goal of living at home independently for a longer period, such as cAlarm and cMed

"Our society is becoming more digitized; health care is not alone in this."

Plenty of work to do

Our society is becoming more digitized; health care is not alone in this. Just like banks, travel agencies, schools, and government bodies, the health care industry has to face the challenge of being able to provide appropriate, modern digital services. In addition, there is a great deal of progress to be made in terms of providing relatively simple services such enabling patients to ask questions or make an appointment online, or to measure their health values themselves. And then there is the challenge of making these services an integral part of a family doctor's clinic, elderly care organization, or hospital. This requires good organization.

The good news is that there is a lot of technology already available to be experimented with. This can be incredibly useful in building up knowledge and can make it easier to make decisions relating to large projects. Ways to easily implement these technologies include:

  • Organize a knowledge session covering basic eHealth services together with your coworkers. Find a good guide, look for good examples from your field, and consider which applications are relevant.
  • Have two health care professionals and four patients experiment with video calling. Have them make appointments with each other and try it for a period of two months.
  • Utilize an e-consultation application temporarily for purposes of contacting a small group of patients. See how it works. Keep track of the advantages and disadvantages, what is required in order to make online contact between health care professionals and patients possible, and what the preconditions are.
  • Choose a number of relevant apps (for instance, apps related to healthy lifestyle choices, fitness, nutrition, and mental health) and look into how they could help the supervision of people with a given issue, such as cardiac problems.

Talk with patients, not about them

IseHealth suitable for every person in every situation? No, digital care is a toolthat should be seen as a component of modern health care.

How, when, and for whom should digital care be used? Listen carefully to patients and clients. Make sure that they are positively involved from the earliest stages in the process of thinking about and implementing eHealth. Talk with them. Listen to how they deal with their illness and vulnerability, what problems they face, and how they can retain their dignity. And consider how the internet might be able to help them with that.

"It's understandable to feel overwhelmed by all the options, but keep sight of the needs of users."Askpatients and clients how they use the internet and consider whether video services or other digital services may be of use. And most importantly, look for good examples and consider whether they can be of use to patients and clients in your organization.

It's understandable to feel overwhelmed by all the options, but keep sight of the needs of users. Digital care is a tool. Digital care is a component of modern health care. Digital care can provide more ease and freedom in the everyday life of people dealing with a disease or disability.

Don't be afraid to take the leap and head down the path of making ordinary eHealth solutions extraordinarily useful!

Liesbeth Meijnckens is an eHealth advisor and the author of the Dutch book "Beter met eHealth in 60 minuten" (Getting better with eHealth in 60 minutes). This book offers a clear and convenient overview of digital applications, inspiring examples from professional practice, and practical tips for implementing eHealth and expanding on its use. More information can be found on Liesbeth Meijnckens's website.