2014 JQS Award Nominee, JQS2014

Diana B. Denholm, Ph.D.


CaregiversWifeDenholm was an innovator in Patient Engagement before it had a name. Turning 70 this year, she received her most significant patent December, 2013 for the nurse call/patient concierge system she single-handedly designed. It enables patients to interact effectively and safely with care staff, and to engage with family and hospital services. A caregiver for 11+ years, Diana is the author of critically acclaimed The Caregiving Wife’s Handbook (January 2012 – www.caregivingwife.com) which teaches collaborative skills for engaging with the patient and the patient’s care team. She currently writes for Psychology Today, Stroke Network, PBS and print publications as a caregiver and patient advocate.


In 1999 my husband, John, received a heart transplant. Intubated in intensive care, he was put in hand restraints to prevent tube removal. Although it was still within his reach, his nurse call button was broken. His charts were taped to the glass walls, blocking all view of him. Then something went wrong. He was in distress and couldn’t get anybody’s attention to help him. Here, in one of the finest teaching hospitals in the world, he experienced a dramatic breech of patient safety.

Later, John was given a piece of paper with the alphabet and told to point to letters to spell out words. Hospitals still use this ridiculous method leaving the patient totally unable, or barely able, to communicate.

Often hospital technology is focused on communication only among staff. The recently-popularized term, “patient engagement”, focuses on accessing medical records, understanding diagnoses and instructions, or simply infotainment. But patient engagement isn’t just filling the patient with information; it’s giving the patient a voice. At its core, patient engagement means patients must be able to effectively communicate in order to collaborate in their own care.

To that end, I invented a comprehensive nurse-call, patient concierge system that transforms the way patients engage with their care team and loved ones. This patient-centric communication system is employed by simply touching specialized icons, text messaging, video or voice via interactive-access boards, touch pads and screens with programmable icons adaptable to mobile or stationary devices. Through multiple customizable platforms and icons, patients (whether adult or child) have direct access links to care staff, support services, food services, and family and visitors. This tool can now take a patient into a world they never had access to – enabling patient and care team to collaborate as partners. It starts by giving every patient a way to be engaged, even if they are temporarily or permanently impaired in speech, hearing, vision, mobility, literacy or linguistics.

Keeping patients, and those who care for them, safe is paramount in my systems which include an automatic default to a distress signal when too many icons are touched. Among customizable icons is “spill” which displays at the nurses’ station and outside the patient’s room door alerting staff to a potential slip and fall situation. Patient requests receive in-room visual and auditory verification. Staff have multiple responding methods ensuring understanding and collaboration. Dangers from incorrect diet (sodium, food allergies, etc.) are prevented by only allowing approved food menu options to reach the patient and kitchen.

For security, patients’ screens show names and pictures of attending staff. Nurse’s stations show pictures of volunteers; and screening/recording/photos/notices permit or prevent access of visitors.

Patient’s customizable personalized screens promote care delivery according to each patient’s goals and preferences, while keeping them oriented with basic helpful details.

Best practices in patient and family engagement include loving contact even when live visits are not possible. I include tangible and virtual Visitors’ Stations within the hospital with remote accessibility from mobile hospital devices or personal external devices.

Every interaction is administratively recorded providing behavioral data capture for provider use in analyzing patient engagement, satisfaction, safety and security. Generating this previously unavailable data drives a systems change creating significant, sustainable improvements in culture and process, providing real-time access to all patient requests, wants, needs and behaviors.

As stated in my Handbook, “Ultimately, it is the patient’s disease and the patient’s right and responsibility to decide the course they and it will take.” Whether in the hospital using my innovations or with caregivers using collaboration learned in my Handbook, systems are changed starting at the point of patient contact.


• The most noteworthy result, and testimony to the innovative qualities of my intellectual property, is the awarding by the United States Patent and Trademark Office of four patents, with a fifth pending. Number #8,612,248, the most significant, was awarded December 17, 2013.

• My book, The Caregiving Wife’s Handbook was published in January 2012, by Hunter House. This book teaches caregiver and patient collaboration regarding all issues surrounding illness, medical treatment and hospitalization. As testimony to its level of achievement and value are the endorsements by the CEO of AARP, the President and CEO of the National Council on Aging, the President and CEO of Mental Health America, the Director of ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center, and the President of the WellSpouse Association.

• As testimony to the value of the patient/family collaboration concepts taught in the Handbook, I was interviewed on over 70 radio shows in 2012-2013; acclaimed to be highly inspirational.

• Because of my work as a patient and caregiver advocate, I was invited to write for Psychology Today, The Beryl Institute, PBS, Stroke-Network, Your Health Journal, Dorland Health, Natural Solutions, Alternative Medicine, Heart Insight and others. I represented Psychology Today at HIMSS14 regarding Patient Experience, Patient Engagement and Patient Satisfaction – articles pending completion. I have been featured in articles for the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Kiplinger Retirement Letter and more.

• The innovations which I created and patented for engaging patients and bringing them directly to needed services (and services to them), appear now to be emulated by various facilities which now use communication boards, white boards, food ordering services, remote visitor interaction and specialized icons for specific wards.

• As the result of the significant and varied claims of my intellectual property, leading manufacturers’ R & D and new-product development teams have the patents under review seeking a means of integrating them into their advanced product lines focused on patient engagement, safety and satisfaction.