With the advent of new technology, more efficient tools are available to carry out tasks that were previously difficult. This is especially true in the health care system to address the needs of a rapidly growing aging population where new telehealth technologies are developed to provide better quality, faster, and more efficient care.
One possible application of telehealth technology is in the treatment for mental health issues, such as therapy for depression. Depression is one of the most common mental health problems found in adults over the age of 65 and affects approximately 15% of the older adult population. With late life depression being linked to increased health care costs and many other health issues, distance technology, such as videotelephones, may be one way of improving depression treatments for older adults. However, there has been very little research regarding how the older population feels about the use of such technology.
Arnet, Klooster and Chow completed a study in 2007 to examine the attitudes of four older adults toward the use of videotelephones (VTs) in treating their depression. The participants were asked about how they felt about using VTs as a part of their treatment plan, before and after 6 weeks of therapeutic intervention. In order to build a working relationship with the participant, the psychologist met with the participant face-to-face for the first of the 6 sessions in their home.
Attitudes before intervention
One participant was hesitant and doubtful about the use of VTs in her treatment plan and was categorized by the researchers as having a passive role in the learning process. This participant expressed that she felt that a regular telephone call would be just as effective as the VT, that it was a bit impersonal and somewhat invasive because the psychologist will be able to see what the participant is doing in her home while they speak. This participant stated that the use of VTs could not replace face to face contact. The other participants were classified by the researchers as having an active role in the learning process. They expressed eagerness to use the technology and interest in seeing the person on the other end of the line. They did not express intimidation, though one participant was afraid until he saw the VT.
Attitudes after intervention
After taking part in 5 therapy sessions via the VT, the participants were re-interviewed in order to examine their attitudes regarding the use of the technology in their treatment. Two of the participants were classified by the researchers as having ambivalent attitudes and the other two as having positive attitudes. Both ambivalent participants felt that the VT may be helpful to others, but that it did not enhance their personal experiences. These two participants found the VT to be impersonal and they stated that it did not replace face-to-face contact. Neither participant stated that they would use the VT again if given the opportunity and neither would recommend it to other people in their situation.
The other two participants, both of whom had work experience in the computer information field, expressed positive attitudes about the use of VTs in their depression treatment. Neither of these participants felt that the VT invaded their privacy and they both expressed that they felt more comfortable being at home during the sessions. Both participants stated that they would use the VT again and would recommend it to others. However, they noted that the technology was not perfect and still requires improvement.
It is important to examine how users feel about any tool or service that is provided to them because it will directly impact how effective the service is. As technological devices improve over time, there will be increasing opportunities to use them in the care of older adults. The current study found that there were some technical barriers to receiving sessions via VT; poor image quality specifically was noted by the participants. The researchers suggest that future studies examine whether high-quality video images would improve user attitudes and allow professionals to better provide their services from a distance.
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Attitudes Toward Videotelephones
Arnaert, A., Klooster, J., & Chow, V. (2007). Attitudes toward videotelephones; an exploratory study of older adults with depression. Journal of Gerontoloical Nursing, 33, 5-13.