The rising incidence of chronic and non-communicable diseases such as obesity, heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease; the fact that family members often live apart; escalating healthcare costs; care provider shortages; and an ageing population present and universal and complex healthcare problems – and the search for solutions knows no boundaries.

These issues require us to think in multifaceted ways, using approaches that take into consideration everyone who’s involved – from various care teams to the patient and their families. They require coordinated and comprehensive models and new technologies for managing people and patients from hospital to home.

Multifaceted models with technology-driven innovation like telehealth hold great promise for the future of health delivery. More than merely a collection of technologies, telehealth is a coordinated system that uses audio-video, monitors with sophisticated algorithms, and data presentation capabilities to help care teams at various locations manage at-risk patients and prevent complications. Telehealth is a new delivery model and a new mindset that requires us to think differently and to coordinate efforts.

For example, in a telehealth-ICU model, one intensive care specialist and three critical care nurses can co-manage 130-150 beds in intensive care units, across hundreds of miles, covering nights and weekends. Telehealth uses technology to bring specialist care to areas where there are no specialists present at the bedside. This network of people, hospitals and expertise – using technology and relating to each other in new ways – can address issues of access to care, care giver shortages, distance, cost of care, and the need to improve outcomes to achieve sustainable public good.

A telehealth model is scalable across traditional care settings; for example, a telestroke model uses audio-video for long-distance consultation and evaluation, and other monitoring and clinical decision support analytics to help local care teams identify the incidence of stroke. This model is also scalable to non-traditional care settings like the home, enabling family members to remotely monitor their loved ones along with home health nurses, health coaches, pharmacists, physicians and other caregivers – regardless of where they are in the world.

Consumer engagement is a force for change in healthcare and everyday mobile technologies make it possible – and even expected – to find new ways to provide healthcare. We can tap into this by offering a remote, highly monitored telehealth environment using video cameras and other medical technologies that connect people with resources and care providers, as an adjunct to traditional home health services. This will involve citizens in their own wellbeing, which is key to the success of any new health delivery system.

Technology will never replace human touch, but solutions like telehealth make possible connections across distances and among networks of care teams and support that would not otherwise be possible. A dose of open mindedness to new ways of communicating – video vs. face to face – are crucial if we are to gain efficiencies, cut costs, and deliver care services to more people.

Offering enhanced support in the comfort of one’s home holds great promise for earlier hospital discharge and may help reduce hospital readmissions. It helps caregivers monitor and make changes to medications or other care plans, with the goal of eliminating visits to the doctors for basic concerns. Familiar coordinated tools like two-way audio-video or a simple Web-based portal can enhance the care delivery experience, helping people understand their care plans and play a part in their own recovery and wellbeing. Telehealth, in the form of distance learning and information dissemination, can be a means for delivering training and other information to a limited number of caregivers and remote caregivers.

The need to improve access to care and deliver quality care at an affordable cost is opening our minds to new – and better – care delivery models for people all over the world. Telehealth is taking hold in developed countries and emerging markets as a new, coordinated approach to healthcare delivery systems that make a difference over the long term.

Author: Deborah DiSanzo is chief executive officer of Philips Healthcare and is participating at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos 2014.

Image: An aerobics class at the gymnasium of a sports center in Cartago, Costa Rica. REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate