Introduction: There is great interest in leveraging technology, including cell phones and computers, to improve healthcare. A range of e-health applications pertaining to mental health such as messaging for prescription refill or mobile device videoconferencing are becoming more available, but little is known about the mental health patient's interest in using these newer applications.
Methods: We mailed a survey to 300 patients seen in the general mental health clinic of a local Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Survey questions focused on interest in use of cell phones, tablets, and other computers in patients' interactions with the healthcare system.
Results: A total of 74 patients, primarily treated for depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or anxiety disorders, returned completed surveys. Nearly all reported having a cell phone (72/74, 97%), but fewer than half reported having a smartphone (35/74, 47%). Overall, a substantial majority (64/74, 86%) had access to an Internet-capable device (smartphone or computer, including tablets). Respondents appeared to prefer computers to cell phones for some health-related communications, but did not express differential interest for other tasks (such as receiving appointment reminders). Interest in use was higher among younger veterans.
Discussion: Most veterans with a mental health diagnosis have access to technology (including cell phones and computers) and are interested in using that technology for some types of healthcare-related communications.
Conclusions: While there is capacity to utilize information technology for healthcare purposes in this population, interests vary widely, and a substantial minority does not have access to relevant devices. Although interest in using computers for health-related communication was higher than interest in using cell phones, single-platform technology-based interventions may nonetheless exclude crucial segments of the population.
Keywords: behavioral health; e-health; m-health; telehealth.