Requiring smartphone ownership for mHealth interventions: who could be left out?

BMC Public Health. 2020 Jan 20;20(1):81. doi: 10.1186/s12889-019-7892-9.


Background: Mobile health (mHealth) interventions have the potential to improve health through patient education and provider engagement while increasing efficiency and lowering costs. This raises the question of whether disparities in access to mobile technology could accentuate disparities in mHealth mediated care. This study addresses whether programs planning to implement mHealth interventions risk creating or perpetuating health disparities based on inequalities in smartphone ownership.

Methods: Video Directly Observed Therapy (VDOT) is an mHealth intervention for monitoring tuberculosis (TB) treatment adherence through videos sent by patients to their healthcare provider using smartphones. We conducted secondary analyses of data from a single-arm trial of VDOT for TB treatment monitoring by San Diego, San Francisco, and New York City health departments. Baseline and follow-up treatment interviews were used to assess participant smartphone ownership, sociodemographics and TB treatment perceptions. Univariate and multivariable logistic regression analyses were used to identify correlates of smartphone ownership.

Results: Of the 151 participants enrolled, mean age was 41 years (range: 18-87 years) and 41.1% were female. Participants mostly identified as Asian (45.0%) or Hispanic/Latino (29.8%); 57.8% had at most a high school education. At baseline, 30.4% did not own a smartphone, which was similar across sites. Older participants (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 1.09 per year, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.05-1.12), males (AOR = 2.86, 95% CI: 1.04-7.86), participants having at most a high school education (AOR = 4.48, 95% CI: 1.57-12.80), and those with an annual income below $10,000 (AOR = 3.06, 95% CI: 1.19, 7.89) had higher odds of not owning a smartphone.

Conclusions: Approximately one-third of TB patients in three large United States of America (USA) cities lacked smartphones prior to the study. Patients who were older, male, less educated, or had lower annual income were less likely to own smartphones and could be denied access to mHealth interventions if personal smartphone ownership is required.

Keywords: DOT; Smartphone; Tuberculosis; VDOT; mHealth.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Directly Observed Therapy / methods
  • Female
  • Healthcare Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • New York City
  • Ownership / statistics & numerical data*
  • San Francisco
  • Smartphone / statistics & numerical data*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Telemedicine*
  • Tuberculosis / therapy*
  • Videotape Recording
  • Young Adult