In most cases, our research projects are unique regarding the health issues of people experiencing homelessness. It is highly important for us that our publications are open-access so all of our scientific papers are available in full text in order to support those colleagues who are interested in the adaptation of our results. We are also sharing our best practices in these publications.
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.
Background With the expansion of digital health, it is imperative to consider intervention techniques in order not to be the cause of even more social health inequalities in underserved populations struggling with chronic diseases. Telemedicine solutions for homeless persons might compensate for shortcomings in access to valuable health services in different settings. The main aim of our research was to examine the attitudes and openness of homeless persons regarding telecare on a Hungarian sample.
Methods Quantitative survey among homeless people (n = 98) was completed in 4 shelters providing mid- and long-term accommodation in Budapest, Hungary. Attitudes regarding healthcare service accessibility and telecare were measured by a self-developed questionnaire of the research team. Telecare attitude comparison was made with data of a Hungarian weighted reference group of non-homeless persons recruited from 2 primary care units (n = 110).
Results A significant fraction of homeless people with mid- or long-term residency in homeless shelters did not oppose the use of telecare via live online video consultation and there was no difference compared to the national reference group (averages of 3.09 vs. 3.15, respectively). Results of the homeless group indicate that those more satisfied with healthcare services, in general, manifest more openness to telecare. It is clearly demonstrated by the multivariate analysis that those participants in the homeless group who had problems getting health care in the last year definitely preferred in-person doctor-patient consultations.
Conclusion Digital health technologies offer a potentially important new pathway for the prevention and treatment of chronic conditions among homeless persons. Based on the attitudes towards telecare, initiating an on-site telecare program for mid- and long-term residents of homeless shelters might enable better care continuity. Our results draw attention to the key factors including building trust in the implementation of such programs among underserved and other vulnerable patient groups.
The COVID-19 outbreak was formally announced as a pandemic by WHO on the 11th of March, 2020. This attracts attention to the possibilities of telemedicine again. In support of stopping the spread of the novel coronavirus infection, whilst keeping the healthcare system running and minimizing the risk of being infected, we also need to find new ways, methods, and platforms to deal with this pandemic. By providing a literature overview and sharing practical guidelines, including the special example of Hungarian teledentistry, we present both international and Hungarian initiatives to involve telemedicine on different levels of healthcare systems regarding COVID-19. Both international and national data show that telemedicine can play a major role in the triage process, early identification, diagnosis and treatment of infected individuals, and management of patient pathways in a way that ensures the medical team does not come into contact with potentially infected patients. It also plays an important role in remote monitoring of medical conditions and care of patients with chronic diseases and reconnects vulnerable groups of healthcare personnel to the care system. In addition to the potential benefits of telemedicine, we must not forget the limitations of this method. However, it is important to emphasize that due to its wide availability, telemedicine services can provide sufficient flexibility for both primary and specialist care (outpatient and inpatient clinical care). For that very reason, it is an urgent need to define the national professional guidelines, legal and financing possibilities in this field in a long-term sustainable way.