HumanInsight Digital Technology Access and Health-Related Internet Use Among People Experiencing Homelessness in Hungary: Quantitative Survey
J Med Internet Res. 2022 Oct 19;24(10):e38729. doi: 10.2196/38729.
BACKGROUND: In recent years, there has been an increase in the use of digital technology for personal health and well-being. Previous research has revealed that these technologies might provide vulnerable populations, including those who are homeless, better access to health services and thus a greater chance of more personalized care.
OBJECTIVE: However, little is known about the relationship between technology and health among people experiencing homelessness in Central and Eastern Europe. This study is part of a series of studies by the Digital Health Research Group at Semmelweis University (Budapest, Hungary) in cooperation with the Hungarian Charity Service of the Order of Malta; it aims to assess the existing technological resources available for the homeless population and their health-related internet use characteristics to set the ground for potential health policy interventions, enabling better access to health services by strengthening the digital components of the existing health care system.
METHODS: Between April 19, 2021, and August 11, 2021, a total of 662 people from 28 institutions providing social services for people experiencing homelessness in Budapest, Hungary, were surveyed about their access to digital tools and internet use patterns. For selected questions, the responses of a representative sample of the Hungarian population were used for comparison as the reference group. Chi-square tests and logistic regression analyses were performed to identify variables affecting internet use for health-related reasons.
RESULTS: The results demonstrated a considerable level of internet use in the homeless population; 52.9% (350/662) of the respondents used the internet frequently compared with 81.3% (1220/1500) of the respondents in the reference group. Among the homeless group, 69.6% (461/662) of the respondents reported mobile phone ownership, and 39.9% (264/662) of the respondents added that it had a smartphone function. Moreover, 11.2% (70/662) of the respondents had already used a health mobile app, and 34.6% (229/662) of the respondents had used the internet for medical purposes. On the basis of these characteristics, we were able to identify a broadly defined, digitally engaged group among people experiencing homelessness (129/662, 19.5%). This subpopulation was inclined to benefit from digitalization related to their personal health. Multivariate analysis demonstrated that internet use for health reasons was more significant for younger respondents, women, those with higher levels of education, and those with no chronic conditions.
CONCLUSIONS: Although compared with the general population, health-related internet use statistics are lower, our results show that the idea of involving homeless populations in the digital health ecosystem is viable, especially if barriers to access are systematically reduced. The results show that digital health services have great promise as another tool in the hands of community shelters for keeping homeless populations well ingrained in the social infrastructure as well as for disease prevention purposes.
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