Research at Massachusetts general Hospital  is interwoven throughout more than 30 departments, centers and units and is conducted with the support and guidance of the Mass General Research Institute. The Research Roundup is a monthly series highlighting studies, news and events. 

Video visits show promise as an alternative to some in-office doctor appointments

From navigating through traffic and finding a parking spot, to asking someone to watch the kids, simply getting in to a doctor’s office for an appointment can often take more time and effort than the appointment itself. What if patients could skip the trip and talk directly to their care team online instead?

A Mass General research team has found that virtual video visits – personal video chats between patients and their health care providers via computers or tablets – can successfully replace office visits for many patients without compromising the quality of care and communication.

Video visits have been offered through the Mass General TeleHealth Program since 2013 and are available to patients receiving care in psychiatry, cardiology, primary care and oncology. Telehealth is a broad term for using electronic communication technologies to deliver health care services.

Virtual visits were found to be especially helpful for older patients with transportation challenges and for parents of children who needed to make frequent appointments. The team’s conclusions were gathered from a survey of 254 patients after their first video visit and from 61 clinicians who participated in the first full year of the program.

“Our findings confirm what I felt in my gut, which is that what patients value most is uninterrupted time with their doctor, and they put up with all the other challenges required to come see us,” says Lee Schwamm, MD, director of the Mass General Center for TeleHealth and of the Comprehensive Stroke Center, executive vice chairman of the Department of Neurology, and senior author of the study. “Telehealth gives them more of what they want most and gets rid of the stuff they don’t want.”

‘Happiness’ exercises can boost mood in those recovering from substance use disorder

On the long, hard road to recovery from a substance use disorder, it may be that a little happiness could go a long way.

A team from the Recovery Research Institute at the hospital recently conducted an online survey of 500 adults who reported current or previous problems with substance use. Participants were assigned one of five short, text-based exercises and then assessed their current levels of happiness.

The greatest gains in happiness came from those who completed an exercise called “Reliving Happy Moments.” Participants chose one of their photos that depicted a happy moment and described what was happening at that time.

An exercise called “Savoring,” in which participants described two positive experiences they noticed and appreciated during the preceding day, led to the next highest gains, followed by “Rose, Thorn, Bud,” which asked participants to list a highlight and a challenge from the preceding day, and something they looked forward to the following day.

Because the exercises are short, easy to use and provide measurable results, they could be a valuable tool to help those in recovery maintain a positive mindset through a challenging process, the authors note.

“These findings underscore the importance of offsetting the challenges of recovery with positive experiences,” says Bettina Hoeppner, PhD, senior research scientist at the Recovery Research Institute and lead author of the study. “Recovery is hard, and for the effort to be sustainable, positive experiences need to be attainable along the way.”