Feb. 9 (UPI) -- Researchers at the University of British Columbia are using digital photography to track patients' healthcare in rural communities.
Professor Kathy Rush of the UBC Okanagan School of Nursing conducted a study with senior atrial fibrillation, or AF, patients living independently in rural communities of less than 7,000 people.
AF is a chronic condition that causes an irregular heartbeat, fatigue, dizziness and shortness of breath.
For the study, 10 participants of varying stages of health were given digital cameras and were asked to take daily photos and mail them back every two weeks for six months.
"You don't always get the full story or picture of what is really going on in their lives," Rush said in a press release. "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 showed people waiting for or traveling to appointments along with their living environment and mental outlook.
"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," Rush said. "The images brought to life their social supports and the gaps in service."
Photos ranged from images taken in places in the community or outside when patients felt well to images of pills, reminders of doctor appointments or people sitting in chairs when they felt ill.
One patient took a series of photos over several hours of a clock to show the amount of time he experienced symptoms and discomfort.
"There is certainly a rural context, like being transferred by ambulance or traveling for hours to get to a health clinic," Rush said. "We know we couldn't capture their health care journey with words alone and this project really opened windows into their lives."
Rush suggests increased use of digital photography to document the environments of older patients in rural areas to help medical professionals understand everyday lives of patients with chronic conditions.
The study was published in Chronic Illness.