Assessing mobile health feasibility and acceptability among HIV-infected cocaine users and their healthcare providers: guidance for implementing an intervention

Shan-Estelle Brown, Archana Krishnan, Yerina S. Ranjit, Ruthanne Marcus, Frederick L. Altice


Background: Mobile health (mHealth) can provide innovative, cost-effective strategies to improve medication adherence and optimize HIV treatment outcomes. Very little, however, is known about the acceptability and feasibility of mHealth among people with HIV (PWH) who use drugs. Our study objective was to assess feasibility, acceptability, and barriers and facilitators of implementing an mHealth intervention among PWH who are cocaine users, a group for whom no pharmacological treatment to reduce cocaine use is available.
Methods: Five focus groups (FGs) (N=20) were conducted with PWH who self-reported cocaine use in the past 30 days, with 3 groups (N=8) of healthcare providers. Topics included previous experience with smartphones; barriers and facilitators of mobile technology for health purposes; and attitudes toward receiving types of feedback about adherence.
Results: Patients preferred text reminders over phone calls for reasons of privacy, accessibility and economizing phone minutes. Direct communication via text messages and phone calls was considered more appropriate for social workers and case managers, who have greater frequency of communication and deeper relationships with patients, and less so for doctors, who see patients less regularly than community health workers. Patients seem particular about who has what information, and overall, they seem to prefer that their medical information, especially HIV-related, stay within the confines of patient-provider relationships.
Conclusions: HIV still provokes stigma and makes health information particularly sensitive for both providers and patients. The rise of mobile technology and related applications such as mHealth, means that new norms have to be established for its use. Participants’ suggestions and feedback informed the design of a subsequent mHealth pilot randomized control trial to improve medication adherence.