An mHealth Platform for People With HIV Receiving Care in Washington, District of Columbia: Qualitative Analysis of Stakeholder Feedback

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



JMIR formative research






HIV; adaptation; cluster randomized controlled trial; formative; mHealth; mobile health; mobile phone; qualitative methods; smartphone


BACKGROUND: HIV viral suppression and retention in care continue to be challenging goals for people with HIV in Washington, District of Columbia (DC). The PositiveLinks mobile app is associated with increased retention in care and viral load suppression in nonurban settings. The app includes features such as daily medication reminders, mood and stress check-ins, an anonymized community board for peer-to-peer social support, secure messaging to care teams, and resources for general and clinic-specific information, among other features. PositiveLinks has not been tailored or tested for this distinct urban population of people with HIV. OBJECTIVE: This study aimed to inform the tailoring of a mobile health app to the needs of people with HIV and their providers in Washington, DC. METHODS: We conducted a 3-part formative study to guide the tailoring of PositiveLinks for patients in the DC Cohort, a longitudinal cohort of >12,000 people with HIV receiving care in Washington, DC. The study included in-depth interviews with providers (n=28) at study clinics, focus groups with people with HIV enrolled in the DC Cohort (n=32), and a focus group with members of the DC Regional Planning Commission on Health and HIV (COHAH; n=35). Qualitative analysis used a constant comparison iterative approach; thematic saturation and intercoder agreement were achieved. Emerging themes were identified and grouped to inform an adaptation of PositiveLinks tailored for patients and providers. RESULTS: Emerging themes for patients, clinic providers, and COHAH providers included population needs and concerns, facilitators and barriers to engagement in care and viral suppression, technology use, anticipated benefits, questions and concerns, and suggestions. DC Cohort clinic and COHAH provider interviews generated an additional theme: clinic processes. For patients, the most commonly discussed potential benefits included improved health knowledge and literacy (mentioned n=10 times), self-monitoring (n=7 times), and connection to peers (n=6 times). For providers, the most common anticipated benefits were improved communication with the clinic team (n=21), connection to peers (n=14), and facilitation of self-monitoring (n=11). Following data review, site principal investigators selected core PositiveLinks features, including daily medication adherence, mood and stress check-ins, resources, frequently asked questions, and the community board. Principal investigators wanted English and Spanish versions depending on the site. Two additional app features (messaging and documents) were selected as optional for each clinic site. Overall, 3 features were not deployed as not all participating clinics supported them. CONCLUSIONS: Patient and provider perspectives of PositiveLinks had some overlap, but some themes were unique to each group. Beta testing of the tailored app was conducted (August 2022). This formative work prepared the team for a cluster randomized controlled trial of PositiveLinks' efficacy. Randomization of clinics to PositiveLinks or usual care occurred in August 2022, and the randomized controlled trial launched in November 2022. INTERNATIONAL REGISTERED REPORT IDENTIFIER (IRRID): RR2-10.2196/37748.