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Why Time and Place Still Matter in a Connected World

Sometimes a single phrase can encapsulate an entire conference. At the recent eHealth Week 2016 event in Amsterdam, a comment during the opening keynote framed the whole week for me:

“Time and place no longer matter.”

The comment was meant to celebrate connected health communities, eHealth capabilities, and the exciting opportunities opened by creative innovators.

gold wall clock reading 10 minutes after 10 o'clock

I certainly share that excitement. But something about it didn’t sit well with me. It took me a while to realize what was wrong.

We need to turn the whole idea on its head.

Throughout the conference, we heard about advances in robotics, in privacy and security, and in building learning health systems with connected health records. All of these allow patients to receive care where they are, at convenient times. We heard from individuals with chronic health conditions who can live full lives due to advances in eHealth. We heard about initiatives to allow older adults to remain in their homes. We had great presentations on telehealth conferencing. My conclusion:

eHealth is important precisely because time and place matter tremendously.

Individuals with disabilities want to live independently in community settings. Older adults want to age in place. Busy citizens don’t want to take a day off from work to travel to a specialist for a 30-minute appointment. Home care workers and community health nurses need connected health records so they can deliver safe, high-quality care in settings chosen by patients.

One of the people I most admire is a woman who has spent most of her adult life in a wheelchair. Although she has a progressive, degenerative condition, she is the most life-affirming, positive person I know. As her body has gradually failed, technology has allowed her to remain present and engaged – living in her home, teaching and mentoring, worshipping in her faith community, planning pranks, and nurturing deep relationships.

She would tell us time and place are incredibly important – that we need to be fully engaged in the here and now.

The inspiring presentations I heard in the Netherlands make me proud to be part of an eHealth community that is making this kind of engagement possible. We are returning control of time and place to our patients and citizens.


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