Accepted for/Published in: Interactive Journal of Medical Research
Date Submitted: Feb 14, 2019
Open Peer Review Period: Feb 19, 2019 - Apr 16, 2019
Date Accepted: May 17, 2019
(closed for review but you can still tweet)
Using Virtual Reality to Improve Antiretroviral Therapy Adherence in the Treatment of HIV: Open-Label Repeated Measure Study
Nonadherence to HIV medications is a serious unsolved problem and is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in the HIV-positive population. Although treatment efficacy is high if compliance is greater than 90%, about 40% of people with HIV do not meet this threshold.
This study aimed to test a novel approach to improve medication adherence by using a low-cost virtual reality (VR) experience to educate people with HIV about their illness. We hypothesized that people with HIV would be more likely to be compliant with the treatment following the 7-minute experience and, therefore, should have decreasing viral load (VL), increasing cluster of differentiation 4+ (CD4+) cell counts, and improved self-reported adherence.
We showed the VR experience to 107 participants with HIV at a county hospital in Los Angeles, California. Participants were asked to self-report how often they take their medications on a Likert-scale. The self-reported question (SRQ) was given before and at least 2 weeks after the VR experience. We also compared VL and CD4+ cell counts before and on average 101 days after the experience. VL and CD4+ were obtained per the clinic’s standard care protocol. Two-tailed paired t tests were performed on the initial and follow-up SRQ scores, VL, and CD4+. We restricted the CD4+ analysis to participants who had a pre-CD4+ below normal (defined as 500 cells/mm3). To reduce the possibility that VL were trending down and CD4+ were trending up regardless of the VR experience, 2 serial VL and CD4+ obtained before the experience were also compared and analyzed. Immediately following the VR experience, participants were given a 4-question Likert-type postexperience questionnaire (PEQ) that assessed their opinions about the experience.
SRQ scores improved from pre to post experience with high significance (P<.001). VL decreased from pre to post experience by 0.38 log10 copies/mL (95% CI 0.06-0.70; P=.02). In contrast, the 2 serial VL obtained before the experience showed no statistically significant changes. There was also a statistically significant increase in CD4+ (95% CI –3.4 to –54.3 cells/mm3; P=.03). Analysis of the PEQ revealed that VR was comfortable for almost all of the participants and that most participants believed the experience to be educational and that it would improve their medication adherence.
The findings suggest that the low-cost VR experience caused an increased rate of antiretroviral therapy adherence that resulted in a decrease of VL and an increase of CD4+. Further studies are required to explore the duration of this effect and whether these results are generalizable to other treatment settings and populations.
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