New media use by patients who are homeless: the potential of mHealth to build connectivity

J Med Internet Res. 2013 Sep 3;15(9):e195. doi: 10.2196/jmir.2724.


Background: Patients experiencing homelessness represent a disproportionate share of emergency department (ED) visits due to poor access to primary care and high levels of unmet health care needs. This is in part due to the difficulty of communicating and following up with patients who are experiencing homelessness.

Objective: To determine the prevalence and types of "new media" use among ED patients who experience homelessness.

Methods: This was a cross-sectional observational study with sequential enrolling of patients from three emergency departments 24/7 for 6 weeks. In total, 5788 ED patients were enrolled, of whom 249 experienced homelessness. Analyses included descriptive statistics, and unadjusted and adjusted odds ratios.

Results: 70.7% (176/249) of patients experiencing homelessness own cell phones compared to 85.90% (4758/5539) of patients in stable housing (P=.001) with the former more likely to own Androids, 70% (53/76) versus 43.89% (1064/2424), and the latter more likely to have iPhones, 44.55% (1080/2424) versus 17% (13/76) (P=.001). There is no significant difference in new media use, modality, or frequency for both groups; however, there is a difference in contract plan with 50.02% (2380/4758) of stably housed patients having unlimited minutes versus 37.5% (66/176) of homeless patients. 19.78% (941/4758) of patients in stable housing have pay-as-you-go plans versus 33.0% (58/176) of homeless patients (P=.001). Patients experiencing homelessness are more likely to want health information on alcohol/substance abuse, mental health, domestic violence, pregnancy and smoking cessation.

Conclusions: This study is unique in its characterization of new media ownership and use among ED patients experiencing homelessness. New media is a powerful tool to connect patients experiencing homelessness to health care.

Keywords: connectivity; emergency department; homelessness; mHealth.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cell Phone / statistics & numerical data*
  • Connecticut
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Female
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Humans
  • Ill-Housed Persons*
  • Internet
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pregnancy
  • Telemedicine / statistics & numerical data*
  • Young Adult