Creating effective mobile phone apps to optimize antiretroviral therapy adherence: Perspectives from stimulant-using hiv-positive men who have sex with men

Keith J. Horvath, Dawit Alemu, Thu Danh, Jason V. Baker, Adam W. Carrico

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Background: The use of stimulant drugs among men who have sex with men (MSM) with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is associated with decreased odds of antiretroviral therapy (ART) adherence and elevated risk of forward HIV transmission. Advancing tailored and innovative mobile phone-based ART adherence app interventions for stimulant-using HIV-positive MSM requires greater understanding of their needs and preferences in this emerging area. Objective: The purpose of this study is to (1) assess reasons that stimulant-using HIV-positive MSM download and sustain their use of mobile phone apps in general, and (2) obtain feedback on features and functions that these men prefer in a mobile phone app to optimize their ART adherence. Methods: Focus groups were conducted with stimulant-using HIV-positive MSM (24-57 years of age; mostly non-Hispanic white; 42% once a week or more frequent stimulant drug use) in San Francisco and Minneapolis. Our aim was to explore the mobile phone app features and functions that they considered when deciding to download and sustain their use of general apps over time, as well as specific features and functions that they would like to see incorporated into an ART adherence mobile app. Focus groups were audiorecorded and transcribed verbatim. Thematic analysis was applied to transcripts using line-by-line open coding and organizing codes into meaningful themes. Results: Men reported that they currently had a variety of health and wellness, social media and networking, gaming and entertainment, and utility apps on their mobile phones. Downloading apps to their mobile phones was influenced by the cost of the app, recommendations by a trusted source, and the time it takes to download. In addition, downloading and sustained use of apps was more likely to occur when men had control over most features of the app and apps were perceived to be useful, engaging, secure, and credible. Participants suggested that ART adherence mobile phone apps include social networking features, connections to local resources and their medical chart, and breaking HIV news and updates. Although some men expressed concerns about daily self-monitoring of HIV medication doses, many appreciated receiving a summary of their medication adherence over time and suggested that feedback about missed doses be delivered in an encouraging and humorous manner. Conclusions: In this study, we were able to recruit a relatively high proportion (42%) of HIV-positive MSM reporting weekly or more stimulant use. These results suggest critical design elements that may need to be considered during development of ART adherence-related mobile phone apps for this, and possibly other, high-risk groups. In particular, finding the optimal balance of security, engagement, usefulness, control capabilities, and credibility will be critical to sustained used of HIV treatment apps.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere48
JournalJMIR mHealth and uHealth
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • HIV
  • Men who have sex with men
  • Smartphone apps
  • Stimulant drug use
  • Technology adoption and use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics


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