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February 26, 2013

Smartphones become weapon against HIV

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An innovative plan developed at the University of Virginia School of Medicine will use smartphones to improve care for people recently diagnosed with HIV in rural Virginia. The electronic outreach effort has won $525,000 in backing from the AIDS United Foundation .

The new initiative aims to overcome problems such as depression, stigma and poverty that often delay and undermine care for rural residents with HIV. A yearlong review found that people newly diagnosed with HIV missed, on average, 1.7 scheduled appointments before arriving at the UVA Ryan White Clinic , the largest provider of HIV care in western Virginia. That delay can cause their health to worsen, increase the amount of virus in their blood and add to the chances that the virus will be spread.

“Our Positive Links program will provide a pathway to earlier entry into and engagement with HIV care. Strong links to HIV care will be built and reinforced with the assistance of our tailored smart phone application,” said the clinic’s Rebecca Dillingham, MD, MPH .

Three Keys to Better Care

The Positive Links program will take a three-pronged approach to ensure people get the care they need:

A smartphone app will provide personalized, interactive reminders and offer access to a virtual community. It will also monitor treatment adherence and potential barriers to care, such as depressed mood, so that UVA staff can respond nimbly, and in nearly real time. Counseling sessions, based on the Antiretroviral Treatment and Services program endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control, will provide information about HIV and offer skills and strategies for living with it. These lessons will be reinforced by the app. A priority access pathway for people newly diagnosed with HIV will ensure they receive care within 24 hours of contacting the Positive Links coordinator.

“We hope that Positive Links will provide critical support to people recently diagnosed with HIV, so that they can make good choices about their health in this particularly vulnerable period,” Dillingham said.

The app is being developed now, and the new program is slated to begin recruiting participants this summer.

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