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article imageDigitalization is helping rural health services

By Tim Sandle     Jul 26, 2017 in Health
Digital photography is helping patients to show how they feel in relation to their treatment plans. This process could significantly aid rural healthcare.
The analysis into digital imaging comes from the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus. The issue relates to people who live alone and in relatively isolated communities (defined as towns with fewer than 7,000 inhabitants). The focus of the research was with patients who have atrial fibrillation.
Atrial fibrillation is an abnormal heart rhythm where there is a rapid and irregular beating. Symptoms include heart palpitations, fainting, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, or chest pain. The chief medical concern is with the disease being associated with an increased risk of heart failure, dementia, and stroke.
To test out what would happen when people who live on their own and who have the heart condition are given digital technology to help to assess their surroundings, the lead researcher Professor Kathy Rush gave ten patients a digital camera. The patients were asked to take daily photos and to produce a memory card every two weeks, over a period of six months. While many of the photos portrayed people waiting for, or travelling to appointments, other images told a starker tale. When patients were feeling happier and healthier they tended to photograph scenes from their community; however, when in pain or feeling depressed the patients tended to photograph things like pills or people sitting around in waiting rooms.
Professor Rush thinks these visual cues can reveal a lot of information about a patient, especially where the patient does not see a physician regularly because of their more isolated situation. She explains in a research note: "The photos gave us access to their days, to things that wouldn't be reported in a doctor's office, or on a medical chart, but were an important part of their day-to-day care."
The academic added: "You don't always get the full story or picture of what is really going on in their lives. These photos gave us considerable information about the environmental context of living with an illness in rural communities, where there is limited access to services." The researcher thinks that medics can make more use of the digital photo journals of patients.
The results of the image analysis have been published in the journal Chronic Illness, under the title “Seeing the rural healthcare journeys of older adults with atrial fibrillation through a photographic lens.”
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