A photo a day keeps the doctor away

An image tells a thousand word—but it also can treat older patients in rural communities. Kathy Rush, professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC) Okanagan, conducted a study testing how photographs can improve the treatment of elderly rural patients with arterial fibrillation.

The study included 10 participants at different stages of health living in rural communities. They were given a digital camera, so participants took pictures of their daily lives and sent the memory card into Rush every two weeks for six months.

"These photo journeys give patients a voice and makes visible what can be very invisible when someone is suffering," said Rush. "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 photos provided researchers insights into patients' daily lives and treatments. On good days, the pictures showed supporting caregivers, their communities and participation in activities. But bad days often featured photos of pills and doctors’ offices.

"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," says Rush. "The images brought to life their social supports and the gaps in service."

Rush hopes that these photo journals can be implemented in more facilities and give caregivers a look into patients’ lives, possibly improving treatments and management of chronic diseases.