Background: Over the past decade policy makers have emphasised the importance of healthcare technology in the management of long-term conditions. Mobile-phone based assessment may be one method of facilitating clinically- and cost-effective intervention, and increasing the autonomy and independence of service users. Recently, text-message and smartphone interfaces have been developed for the real-time assessment of symptoms in individuals with schizophrenia. Little is currently understood about patients' perceptions of these systems, and how they might be implemented into their everyday routine and clinical care.
Method: 24 community based individuals with non-affective psychosis completed a randomised repeated-measure cross-over design study, where they filled in self-report questions about their symptoms via text-messages on their own phone, or via a purpose designed software application for Android smartphones, for six days. Qualitative interviews were conducted in order to explore participants' perceptions and experiences of the devices, and thematic analysis was used to analyse the data.
Results: Three themes emerged from the data: i) the appeal of usability and familiarity, ii) acceptability, validity and integration into domestic routines, and iii) perceived impact on clinical care. Although participants generally found the technology non-stigmatising and well integrated into their everyday activities, the repetitiveness of the questions was identified as a likely barrier to long-term adoption. Potential benefits to the quality of care received were seen in terms of assisting clinicians, faster and more efficient data exchange, and aiding patient-clinician communication. However, patients often failed to see the relevance of the systems to their personal situations, and emphasised the threat to the person centred element of their care.
Conclusions: The feedback presented in this paper suggests that patients are conscious of the benefits that mobile-phone based assessment could bring to clinical care, and that the technology can be successfully integrated into everyday routine. However, it also suggests that it is important to demonstrate to patients the personal, as well as theoretical, benefits of the technology. In the future it will be important to establish whether clinical practitioners are able to use this technology as part of a personalised mental health regime.