British Columbia

Treating rural B.C. patients with the help of photography

A UBCO study says doctors can help rural patients by asking them to take photos of their day-to-day experience.

UBC Okanagan study asked ill patients in small communities to take photos of their daily lives

Participants were given digital cameras, asked to take daily photos and then mail in a memory card every two weeks. (Kathy Rush)

Getting patients in rural communities to take photos of their daily lives could help them get better treatment, according to a new study from UBC Okanagan.

The study involved 10 patients at varying stages of health living with atrial fibrillation — a chronic condition that causes an irregular heartbeat, dizziness and shortness of breath. All live independently in B.C. towns with populations of less than 7,000 people.

The participants were given digital cameras and asked to take daily photos and mail in a memory card every two weeks over a six month period.

"These photo journeys give patients a voice and makes visible what can be invisible when someone is suffering," said Kathy Rush, an associate nursing professor.

An 82-year-old woman captured this image of her day spent at home alongside her heart monitoring equipment. (Kathy Rush)

"It can be quite a distressing condition, so we wanted to know what it was like for patients in rural communities."

Rush said the photos often reflected the patient's health status. If a patient was feeling stable, photos would show the person while out and about, taking part in social activities. On symptomatic days, the images were more likely to be taken while resting at home, and include photos of pills and ambulances.

Rush said one man took a series of photos over several hours of a clock as a way of showing how long he had endured discomfort.

"In some ways it lets us know how to better support patients with this illness through social supports. Just keeping an eye on what the impact is day-to-day."

"If you've got a lot of pictures of a person at home, perhaps there's some isolation going on. And what does that tell us about their disease condition?"

A 68-year-old participant took this fishing photo on a day where he was feeling active and social. (Kathy Rush)

Rush admits her study sample size was small, but she believes the photographic method could help other rural patients and doctors in the future.

She's recommending photo journeys be used more frequently for older, rural patients, regardless of their health condition. 

"There's a unique window into their lives. Perhaps we could provide some support and added services they need."

The research was recently published in Chronic Illness

With files from Daybreak South