Apps could be a key to boosting HIV testing and the use of AIDS prevention medication PrEP among young men who have sex with men, according to a new small study published in JMIR.
Researchers gauged the usage and acceptability of the MyChoices app, which gives users personalized recommendations for HIV testing and usability, as well as information about resources in their area and take home-testing options.
The bulk of study participants reported that the digital tool was useful and would recommend it to a friend. The study also demonstrated that participants regularly used the app over a two-month period.
In the study's technical pilot, 91% of participants said the app motivated them to get tested for HIV. Another 82% reported that the tool helped them understand if PrEP was a good choice for them. However, only 45% reported being motivated to get on PrEP as a result of the tool.
On average participants used the app eight times over a two-month period. During that period, 64% used the app too look up an HIV testing site. In terms of acceptability, 82% of responders agree the tool was useful.
Also outlined in the paper, researchers had completed a theater test before the technical pilot to gain insights what users wanted from the app. This feedback was then incorporated into the app for the technical pilot. The feedback included adding basic information about HIV, and how to handle stress around the topic.
"In both theater testing and the technical pilot, the most popular features included ordering free HIV and STI self-testing kits, condoms, and lube; ability to search for nearby HIV testing and PrEP care sites; and PrEP information provided in multiple formats (i.e. text, videos, GIFs and infographics).
"This suggests that YMSM are open to accessing multiple means of HIV prevention support and that providing a large toolbox of HIV prevention options using diverse modalities is essential for reaching this group at the highest risk for HIV acquisition," researchers wrote.
HOW IT WAS DONE
The study included men who had sex with men between the ages of 15 and 24 who had not had an HIV test in the last three months and were self-reported as being HIV uninfected or unknown in screening. All participants had to own a smartphone and download the app. All participants needed to be able to communicate in English. Participants were recruited from a health center in Boston and another in New York.
Research was completed in two parts, but both had the same participant criteria. First there was a 28-person theater test to garner feedback. Participants were split into four groups across two iTech sites. During the theater test participants interacted with the app and gave feedback.
Subjects also completed a demographic and behavioral questionnaire. During this time participants were asked about ways to boost the platform. The data from this theater study was then used to refine the tool for the technical test.
The next part of the research was the technical pilots. This included 11 participants across the two sites. Participants completed a demographic and behavior assessment, as well as a survey about sexual history and behaviors.
Participants were encouraged to use the app regularly. After two months a post-baseline assessment and exit interviews were conducted.
No conflicts of interest were declared in the study.
Today there are approximately 1.2 million people in the US living with HIV, according to HIV.GOV. Approximately 14% of individuals with the disease do not know they have it.
Men who have sex with men and racial and ethnic minorities continue to be disproportionately impacted. In 2018, gay and bi African American men had the highest number of new infections, followed by gay and bi Latino men.