A key component of HIV/AIDS care is encouraging patients to curb high-risk behaviors like unprotected sex and drug use. Often, this means time-intensive and costly counseling. But a new study suggests that self-assessments could provide the push that some HIV patients need to make better lifestyle choices.
The study involved 365 HIV patients seen at various community health clinics and HMOs. Prior to their appointments, the patients were taken to a private room to answer questions on a laptop computer. Patients who completed four or more self-assessments posted the largest increases in abstinence, from 47 percent to 61 percent. They also had greatest improvement in condom use. At the study's start, 73 percent said they used a condom when their partner was HIV-negative or when they did not know their partner's HIV status; that increased to 85 percent.
In answering the questions, people have to reflect on their behavior and may see it in a more objective way, explained Dr. Marguerita Lightfoot, the study's lead author and a research psychologist at the University of California-Los Angeles. "I think that's a big reason that this intervention is powerful," she said.
In addition, the use of computers frees people from the worry of being judged. "People are much more truthful and let down their guard when talking to a computer," said Lightfoot.
Though Lightfoot cautioned that more research is needed, "practically speaking," she said, "self-assessments require only some laptop computers and would be relatively inexpensive and simple for clinics to implement."
The study, "Self-Monitoring of Behavior as a Risk Reduction Strategy for Persons Living with HIV," was published in the journal AIDS Care (2007;19(6):757-763).
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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network.
It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.