September 6, 2013 | By 
  • Emergency department (ED) patients who are homeless have high rates of cell phone ownership and are likely to engage in mHealth, according to a study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

“Patients who are homeless experience high levels of unmet health needs and poor access to primary care,” study authors state in JMIR. “Thus it is not surprising that people who are homeless represent a disproportionate share of emergency department patients.”

Nevertheless, more than 70 percent of the homeless ED population in the study owned cell phones with the ability to text and receive calls. As a result, the authors argue that ED providers can increase connectivity for mHealth purposes including referrals, appointment and medication reminders, and providing relevant information for health management, to the homeless.

“This connectivity may be an even more important tool for homeless patients because they may not have access to health information from primary care providers or be exposed to health information through formal education,” study authors wrote. “Smartphones can meet their Internet and application needs as they relate to health care when stable housing with landlines, desktops, laptops, and Wi-Fi access are not available.”

In the study, homeless ED patients were significantly more likely to want information on chronic health and social problems such as mental health, smoking cessation, alcohol and other substance abuse, pregnancy, and domestic violence than their stably housed counterparts. Those identifying as homeless were slightly more likely to look up health information (64 percent) than stably housed ED patients (59.81 percent) and twice as likely to look up health information than the general population as reported in previous studies, states the article.

“Our expanded knowledge about the desire for connectivity by patients who are homeless informs opportunities for prevention and intervention to improve the health of this vulnerable population and potentially decrease the cost of health care,” concludes the article.

In related news, South Florida mobile medical clinics operated by Children’s Health Fund are able to link to pediatric specialists from the University of Miami Health System thanks to a recent telemedicine upgrade. Children’s Health Fund operates the mobile clinics for children in homeless or low-income families. Many of these children’s only healthcare comes from emergency rooms because their parents can’t afford to miss work for a doctor’s appointment or they lack transportation.

The Verizon Foundation is providing the mobile clinic with a high-speed 4G LTE wireless broadband connection and upgraded telecommunications equipment to link to the University of Miami’s advanced telehealth program. That equipment includes enterprise-grade routers and small antennas in the mobile clinic to improve connectivity. Previously, staff members in the mobile clinic could not easily connect to patients’ electronic records and telemedicine wasn’t possible.


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