It pays to use Emory’s new HIV prevention app

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With all the talk about prevention messages falling on deaf ears among gay men, a new strategy might hit you right where your truest heart lies – in your ever-present mobile device.

These days your next trick has never been closer than your phone if you want it. But hookup apps like Grindr, Scruff and Jack’d have a new companion that researchers at Emory’s Rollins School of Health in Atlanta hope you’ll like: Meet HealthMindr. It helps you manage your sexual health and get paid for it.

“We have better tools now than ever before to reduce HIV infections in our community,” says Patrick Sullivan, a lead researcher on the project. “We believe that there’s an important role for an app that gives men some personalized feedback about what services might be right for them, and helps connect them to places that provide those services.”

It’s been a couple of years since Emory was seeking slutty gays with smartphones. Now it’s ready to evaluate HealthMindr with real-life gay male users. If you qualify after a brief survey, you can download HealthMindr and get some pretty cool gifts for sharing your experience during the six-month evaluation period.

If you choose to participate in the rest of the study, you would be compensated with a $25 gift card for enrollment, three $5 gift cards over four months for completion of different functions in the app, and an additional $25 gift card for completing the evaluation survey at the end of the study. The total compensation for all participants who complete all of these study activities is $65. Some men will also be asked to participate in a group discussion or individual interview. For these activities, men will receive an additional $40 cash, for a total of $105.

In addition to good-as-cash shopping bonuses, you also get information personalized to you, your sex life, and your HIV prevention needs. In exchange, Emory gets real-life input on how to reach gay guys with messages that resonate. Because HIV is declining, unless you’re gay. It can also help guys get and stay on PrEP if they want it, because that’s an uphill battle in itself.

We like the whole concept, so we asked Sullivan to answer some burning questions to help you decide whether testing HealthMindr is right for you. Sullivan shoots straight about how it works and what it could mean for the future of HIV prevention. He should know: he’s also the Emory go-to who maps HIV in Atlanta by zip code.

What is HealthMindr?

HealthMindr is a mobile phone app that pulls together a lot of information and services that gay and bi men need to protect their health. The goal is to help men figure out what they can do to protect their sexual health, and provide easy access to services that might benefit them.

Who can qualify to participate?

Right now, we’re in a phase of testing the app to learn more about how men use it, and how we can continue to improve it before we release it more widely. We’re enrolling men who are interested in using the app and giving us feedback in a research study.

Men need to be at least 18 years old, have had sex with another man in the past year, have not tested positive for HIV in the past, have an Android phone – we’ll be expanding to iPhone users after this study – and live in Atlanta or Seattle.

When do you anticipate it will be available for iOS?

The iPhone version will follow after we’ve completed the evaluation. It will likely be in late 2015 or early 2016.

So what exactly does HealthMindr do in the day-to-day lives of participants?

The app has a couple main functions. One is to help guys get recommendations about what are appropriate steps to take to maintain their sexual health, based on their personal circumstances. So a series of short surveys are used to provide some personalized recommendations about testing for HIV, as well as other issues like how to find out more about health insurance or order free condoms.

The second function is to connect guys with specific services that might be useful to them. For example, the app asks users several questions to help determine whether they might be a good candidate for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). If so, they’re referred to a list of clinics that can help assess them for PrEP – including mapping and driving or public transportation directions.

Does HealthMindr ask personal questions?

The app does ask personal questions, for men who want to get personalized recommendations. For guys who know what services they want to use, the features like finding a place to get PrEP, post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), or HIV testing don’t require users to answer any personal questions.

What are the research goals of HealthMindr?

In this evaluation, we’re most interested in which parts of the app guys use, how often they come back to use certain parts of the app, and how often they order condoms and at-home HIV test kits. We’ll also ask participants some questions after they have used the app for several months about which parts of the app they liked or didn’t like, and what ideas they have to make the app more useful for them.

Is the app tech-savvy, dynamic and easy to use?

The MAC AIDS Fund has supported us to take a very structured, stepwise, scientific approach to develop HealthMindr. We’ve already interviewed dozens of men in Atlanta and Seattle, as well as HIV counselors, health department personnel, and funders of HIV research and prevention programs.

What does HealthMindr's future hold?

The information we get in this current project will help us make sure we’re on target to provide the most useful app we can to men who are interested in organizing all the things available to support their sexual health.


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