A novel twist on the concept of “meeting people where they are” may hold the key to retaining new HIV patients, and even bringing the elusive goal of ending the AIDS epidemic a bit closer. While the concept commonly refers to community outreach and engagement, understanding patient experiences and expectations and personal life stressors in the actual clinic setting may improve overall outcomes, according to new research.
“Medical science is not necessarily [at the forefront] of where we want to focus our efforts right now,” Emmanuel Guajardo, MD, lead study author and instructor of infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, told this news organization.
Rather, “we need to focus on retention in care and adherence to medications. Doubling down on these efforts could really go a long way toward ending the HIV epidemic,” he said.
Study findings were published online Jan. 5, 2022, in AIDS and Behavior.
First time’s a charm
A total of 450 patients attending an HIV clinic in Houston were asked to complete a postvisit survey detailing their experience with the HIV clinician, as well as personal life stressors in the preceding 6 months. Study participants were predominantly non-Hispanic Black (54.2%) or Hispanic (30.7%) and mostly men who have sex with men (MSM), populations that mimic the patients seen at Dr. Guajardo’s clinic. Patients were given the option of survey completion while awaiting discharge, within 2 weeks at the clinic, or (as a last resort) by phone.
Overall scores were based on a composite of validated scales: patient experience scores were defined dichotomously (best experience, most positive experience vs. not the best experience), and life stressor events (death, relationship, economic) were assigned weighted scores based on life change impact (for example, death of a spouse received a score of 100 while moved/changed living location was assigned a score of 25).
“We found that patients who reported better initial experiences with their provider at the first visit were less likely to be lost to follow-up at 6 and 12 months,” explained Dr. Guajardo. “Having fewer life stressors at the first visit [was] also [protective].”
At 6 months, mean overall patient experience scores were 8.60 for those LTFU versus and 8.98 for those not LTFU (P = .011); corresponding mean scores at 12 months were 8.43 and 8.98 respectively (P = .001).
For the dichotomized scoring, patients reporting the best experience with the health care professional were significantly less likely to be LTFU at 6 months (adjusted odd ratio, 0.866; P = .038) and 12 months (aOR, 1.263; P = .029) versus those not reporting the best experience.
Mean life change scores appeared to portend patient drop-off; patients reporting more stressful life events were likelier to be LTFU at 6 months (mean life change score, 129 vs. 100 for those retained in care) and at 12 months (126 vs. 101).
Corresponding multivariate logistic regression models controlling for age, baseline CD4 cell count less than 200, and diagnosis of at least 3 months showed that patients with higher life stressor burdens were significantly more likely to be LTFU at both 6 months (aOR, 1.232, P = .037) and 12 months (aOR, 1.263, P = .029).