Spotlight on mHealth Research with Sara LeGrand

Editors Note: The writing below originally appeared in the Duke Center for AIDS Research (CFAR) September 2013 Newsletter. The Duke Center for AIDS Research (CFAR) promotes the collaboration and coordination of AIDS-related research by supporting the scientific needs of the basic and clinical research community at Duke. 

Spotlight on mHealth Research

mHealth is a rapidly growing field that has tremendous potential to expand and enhance HIV prevention and care. Mobile phones have been used to increase linkage and retention in HIV care, improve adherence to HIV treatment regimens and expand and enhance HIV prevention and testing services worldwide. Though most mHealth HIV interventions to date have relied on text messaging (SMS), increased smartphone use creates opportunities to deliver complex, interactive, and tailored interventions via the mobile web or software applications.

My research is focused on the ways mobile devices can be used to reach individuals with limited up-take of HIV prevention and treatment services due to geographic barriers, high levels of stigma, and lack of social support. I am currently working on two US-based studies to address the HIV prevention and treatment needs of young Black men who have sex with men (BMSM). Our research team, led by Dr. Lisa Hightow-Weidman at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (PI), has developed an inter- net and mobile phone-based intervention for HIV+ and HIV- BMSM to reduce sexual risk behaviors, create positive norms around health behaviors, promote health and wellness, and provide a platform for community-building. Pilot studies have shown preliminary efficacy of the intervention and we plan to recruit participants for a randomized control trial in the coming months. We are also conducting a study to develop a mobile app for BMSM using gaming and social networking features to improve HIV medication adherence.

While current evidence suggests that mHealth interventions can improve HIV care and treatment, researchers will need to address questions around participant engagement, durability of effects, and scalability in the coming years. I look forward to collaborating with other CFAR researchers who are interested in answering these questions and moving the field forward.

—Dr. Sara LeGrand (sara.legrand@duke.edu)

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