Research Alert

Background: The HIV epidemic has revealed considerable disparities in health among sexual and gender minorities of color within the Unites States, disproportionately affecting cisgender men who have sex with men (MSM) and trans women. Social inequities further disadvantage those with intersectional identities through homophobia, antitrans discrimination, and racism, shaping not only those at risk for HIV infection but also HIV prevention and care outcomes. Digital interventions have great potential to address barriers and improve HIV care among cisgender MSM and trans women; however, efficacy of digital HIV care interventions vary and need further examination.

Objective: This study assessed the 12-month efficacy of a 6-month digital HIV care navigation intervention among young people living with HIV in San Francisco, California. We examined dose-response relationships among intervention exposure (eg, text messaging), viral suppression, and mental health. Health electronic navigation (eNav) is a 6-month, text message–based, digital HIV care navigation intervention, in which young people living with HIV are connected to their own HIV care navigator through text messaging to improve engagement in HIV primary care.

Methods: This study had a single-arm, prospective, pre-post design. Eligibility criteria for the study included the following: identifying as cisgender MSM or trans women, being between the ages of 18 and 34 years, being newly diagnosed with HIV, or not being engaged or retained in HIV care or having a detectable viral load. We assessed and analyzed sociodemographics, intervention exposure, and HIV care and mental health outcome data for participants who completed the 6-month Health eNav intervention. We assessed all outcomes using generalized estimating equations to account for within-subjects correlation, and marginal effects of texting engagement on all outcomes were calculated over the entire 12-month study period. Finally, we specified an interaction between texting engagement and time to evaluate the effects of texting engagement on outcomes.

Results: Over the entire 12-month period, this study shows that every one-text increase in engagement was associated with an increased odds of undetectable viral load (adjusted odds ratio 1.01, 95% CI 1.00-1.02; P=.03). Mean negative mental health experiences decreased significantly at 12 months compared to baseline for every one-text increase in engagement (coefficient on interaction term 0.97, 95% CI 0.96-0.99; P<.01).

Conclusions: Digital care navigation interventions including Health eNav may be a critical component in the health delivery service system as the digital safety net for those whose social vulnerability is exacerbated in times of crisis, disasters, or global pandemics owing to multiple social inequities. We found that increased engagement in a digital HIV care navigation intervention helped improve viral suppression and mental health—intersecting comorbid conditions—6 months after the intervention concluded. Digital care navigation may be a promising, effective, sustainable, and scalable intervention.

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