Characterizing User Experiences With an SMS Text Messaging-Based mHealth Intervention: Mixed Methods Study

JMIR Form Res. 2022 May 3;6(5):e35699. doi: 10.2196/35699.


Background: Limited access to mental health care services due to provider shortages, geographic limitations, and cost has driven the area of mobile health (mHealth) care to address these access gaps. Reports from the Cohen Veterans Network and National Council for Behavioral Health show that in states where mental health care is more accessible, 38% of people still do not receive the care they need. mHealth strategies help to provide care to individuals experiencing these barriers at lower cost and greater convenience, making mHealth a great resource to bridge the gaps.

Objective: We present a mixed methods study to evaluate user experiences with the mental mHealth service, Cope Notes. Specifically, we aimed to investigate the following research questions: How do users perceive the service in relation to stigma, impact of the intervention, and perceived usefulness? How do users rate the Cope Notes service and SMS text messaging along various dimensions of acceptability? What is the relationship between Cope Notes SMS text message ratings, user personality, and coping strategies? What are user perspectives of leveraging ubiquitous sensing technologies to improve delivery and provide tailored content?

Methods: We performed qualitative interviews with Cope Notes users (N=14) who have used the service for at least 30 days to evaluate their experiences and usefulness of the service. These interviews were coded by 2 raters (SLK and JL), and the interrater reliability was calculated with SPSS (IBM Corp) at 61.8%. In addition, participants completed quantitative measures, including a user experiences survey, personality inventory (Big Five Inventory-10), and coping assessment (Brief Coping Orientation to Problems Experienced).

Results: We derived 7 themes from our qualitative interviews: Likes or Perceived Benefits, Dislikes or Limitations, Suggested Changes, Stigma or Help Seeking, Perceptions of Ubiquitous Sensing, Cultural Sensitivity, and Alternative mHealth Resources. Exploratory analyses between acceptability ratings of Cope Notes and personality factors showed statistically significant positive relationships between seeing oneself as someone who is generally trusting and acceptability items, the most significant being item 7 (I fully understood the sentiment behind Cope Notes Messages) with (rs(10)=0.82, P=.001). We also found statistically significant relationships between acceptability and Brief Coping Orientation to Problems Experienced items, with the strongest positive correlation between participants strongly endorsing coping by accepting the reality that an event has happened and acceptability item 7 (rs(8)=0.86, P=.001).

Conclusions: Our study found that Cope Notes subscribers appreciate the service for reframing their mental wellness with statistically significant correlations between personality and acceptability of the service. We found that some users prefer a more personalized experience with neutral to positive reactions to a potential companion app that continuously monitors user behavior via smartphone sensors to provide just-in-time interventions when users need it most.

Keywords: SMS; cognitive restructuring; coping; low-intensity intervention; mHealth; mental health; mobile health; mobile phone; stigma; text messaging; ubiquitous sensing; user perceptions.