Digital health enhances patients’ health care - Denise Irvine is Telehealth Coordinator at the Waikato DHB and a member of the NZ Telehealth Leadership group.

Many of us in the health sector believe we are experiencing very exciting time in health service delivery. Why? The rapid growth in wireless and mobile devices is making us explore the delivery of health care in a much more innovative and patient-centred manner using these devices. These devices not only reduce the need for patients to travel for a portion of their health care but also encourage patients to take more responsibility for their own care, supported by a variety of these tools.

Kiosks are one of these digital opportunities. These new patient care settings were developed by large organisations in United States and are evolving from here. They are dedicated rooms set up within the building of the organisation. They have technology to be able to access clinicians (of all disciplines) and equipment to assist the consult such as BP cuffs, spirometers, scales etc.

These kiosks are seen as:

  • Delivering quality care
  • Reduce the time patients need to spend travelling
  • Reduce time off work
  • Reduced exposure to other infectious patients in waiting rooms
  • Reduce cost of visit to medical centre and after hour clinics.
  • Provide quicker access to health care.

This patient is able to leave their work desk, enter a kiosk, complete their vital signs and connect with a health professional for a consult. All completed within a short amount of time and not having to leave the work campus.

Health Robots

A wide variety of robots are being constantly developed, each building on the abilities of the previous model. Some are simple robots which are able to carry out simple tasks such as:

  • Ability to deliver food and drink to people.
  • Able to provide medication and appointment reminders
  • Able to answer incoming calls from family and caregivers

Other stronger robots can assist with mobilisation and lifting. This can mean patients can stay in their own homes longer if that is what they wish. Other advanced robots are able to hold a wealth of information. Because of the increase in diseases and the escalation of knowledge needed to treat these diseases, literature is showing that in the future robots will be given the information about a patient and with the knowledge they hold, will make the diagnosis. Following this, the doctors, nurses and other health professionals will then fill the role of skilled coaches basing their care on the diagnosis given by the robots.

At Waikato DHB, a robot is used for virtual ward rounds at a rural hospital over one hour away. This means the patient still receives specialist care, but allows them to stay in their home town, close to family and friends.

Rehabilitation Tools

New tools offer a service to ensure patients who have experienced stroke, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury get the exercise they need, to be as physically enabled as possible. The program is introduced by the health professional over a tele link followed by the program running and the patients following instructions – identical to attending an in-hospital appointment.

At a “Futures for Technology” conference attended two years ago, patients in Sweden who had suffered a stroke and had physical complications, were loaned a treadmill during the winter months when travel was difficult. The health professional could then link to the patient and monitor the exercise being carried out.

Sensors and sensor-based environmental monitoring

There are a variety of sensors which can be placed around a home that provide motion, location and activity information. Some of these are already being used here in New Zealand. These sensors can turn on smart lights which glow softly when a person goes to the toilet at 3am that assist in reducing the possibility of slipping and falling. Foot movement and weight sensors placed on shoes can record gait and activity for the day and transfer this information back to a smart phone of the family or nurse, alerting them to the fact that physical activity has been carried out. There are already sensors available in New Zealand which can be placed in shoes worn by patients if they tend to wander.


Some patients emerging are known as e-patients. Because of their interest in their own health, they are more likely to be engaged, enabled, empowered and equipped (deBronkart). They will be actively involved in all aspects of their care, using any device they find of value, and perhaps even assisting in the designing of what the care should actually be. They will be aware of the latest research, alternative therapies available, and have access to and will be able to discuss the content of their record in an informed manner with their clinician. These then, are our patients of the future.

So, this is our future. Let’s embrace it.

Reference: “e-patient Dave” deBronkart. (2013) Let patients help. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Written by : Denise Irvine is Telehealth Coordinator at the Waikato DHB and a member of the NZ Telehealth Leadership group.

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