BACKGROUND: Homeless veterans have complex healthcare needs, but experience many barriers to treatment engagement. While information technologies (IT), especially mobile phones, are used to engage patients in care, little is known about homeless veterans’ IT use. This study examines homeless veterans’ access to and use of IT, attitudes toward health-related IT use, and barriers to IT in the context of homelessness.
METHODS: Qualitative interviews were conducted with 30 homeless veterans in different housing programs in Boston, MA. Inductive thematic analysis was used.
RESULTS: Most participants (90%) had a mobile phone and were receptive to IT use for health-related communications. A common difficulty communicating with providers was the lack of a stable mailing address. Some participants were using mobile phones to stay in touch with providers. Participants felt mobile-phone calls or text messages could be used to remind patients of appointments, prescription refills, medication taking, and returning for laboratory results. Mobile phone text messaging was seen as convenient, helped participants stay organized because necessary information was saved in text messages. Some reported concerns about the costs associated with mobile phone use (calls and texting), the potential to be annoyed by too many text messages, and not knowing how to use text messaging.
CONCLUSION: Homeless veterans use IT and welcome its use for health-related purposes. Technology-assisted outreach among this population may lead to improved engagement in care.