Mobile phone access and preferences among medical inpatients at an urban Canadian hospital for post-discharge planning: A pre-COVID-19 cross-sectional survey

Front Digit Health. 2022 Nov 11:4:928602. doi: 10.3389/fdgth.2022.928602. eCollection 2022.


Background: Digital health interventions are increasingly used for patient care, yet little data is available on the phone access type and usage preferences amongst medical ward inpatients to inform the most appropriate digital interventions post-discharge.

Methods: To identify mobile phone ownership, internet access, and cellular use preferences among medical inpatients, we conducted a researcher-administered survey of patients admitted to five internal medicine units at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) in January 2020. The survey was administered over 2 days separated by a 2-week period.

Results: A total of 81 inpatients completed the questionnaire. Survey found that 85.2% of survey respondents had mobile phone access where 63.0% owned their own mobile phone, and 22.2% had access to a mobile phone via a proxy (or an authorized third-party) such as a family member. All participants with mobile phone access had cellular plans (i.e., phone and text); however, a quarter of respondents did not have data plans with internet access. Survey showed that 71.1% of males owned a mobile phone compared to only 52.8% of females. All participants at a "high" risk of readmission had access to a mobile phone, either as phone-owners or proxy-dependent users.

Conclusion: Access to mobile phones among medical ward inpatients, 85.2%, was comparable to smartphone penetration rates amongst Canadians in 2019, 85.1%. More patients had cellular than data plans (i.e., internet and applications). Understanding patient-specific access is key to informing potential uptake of digital health interventions aimed at using patients' mobile phones (mHealth) from an effectiveness and equity lens.

Keywords: digital health; health services planning; hospital readmission; mHealth; mobile phone penetration; patient engagement; virtual care.