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A case for patients staying connected

June 21, 2016
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Letter From the Editor

Back in March I interviewed Gosnold on Cape Cod's forward-thinking president and now emeritus CEO, Ray Tamasi, for an article about how Gosnold patients were benefiting therapeutically from a digital imagery activity conducted on tablet computers. The topic got me to thinking about how substance use treatment programs traditionally have viewed the use of technology by their patients in the clinical setting, particularly at the residential level.

A cautious, conservative mindset still appears at times to predominate in the industry over whether to open access to online technology while a person resides in treatment. The arguments about restricting access to potential triggers or negative influencers often win out over points about technology's potential benefits in the therapeutic environment. But it appears tougher than ever to deny that technology today has become close to an essential component to the heartbeat of daily life—a person's recovery status notwithstanding.

In Gosnold's case, the Massachusetts treatment organization not only had to embrace online access in order for patients to use Expressive Digital Imagery (EDI) techniques, it also had to get comfortable with the idea of patients working with photographs that they themselves shoot. It purchased half a dozen tablet computers to be used in the three-to-five week rehabilitation program where it piloted the activity. EDI allows an individual to create and manipulate photographic images on screen.

Gosnold discovered right away that the group discussions that ensued from this creative activity revealed more than just about anything achieved through typical group dialogue. As Tamasi said, “We found that they were talking about the image in a way that was much more revealing and open than if they were just talking about themselves. In the feedback, people were talking about not the other person, but the image.”

This might have been the most telling statement in the article, however: “Tamasi adds that there have been no problems associated with improper use of the technology, or with the practice of giving patients more access to technology than has been the case in the past.” No one was abusing the privilege by photographing fellow patients inappropriately, for example. Gosnold plans to extend the self-expression activity to other treatment programs in the organization.

How Gosnold became aware of the EDI techniques also carries an important lesson. Tamasi has participated in a group outside the field that is devoted to sharing innovations, and it was in that forum where he met Steven Koppel, founder of the Boston-based nonprofit EDI Institute and a former business executive. Tamasi learned about how use of digital imagery could enhance the clinical experience, and saw it as a potential fit for Gosnold. For his part, Koppel says the technology has applicability across a variety of healthcare settings.

By searching outside the field for ideas, Gosnold was able to improve the quality of clinical care for patients. Tamasi recently has been applying this expansive vision to trying to identify broader innovations for Gosnold, in his new role farther removed from the organization's day-to-day operations. These efforts serve as a reminder that it can never hurt to observe how other organizations, even other industries entirely, grapple with common challenges.

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