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Will You Go Get An HIV Test If We Spam Your Phone?

If one in five people don’t know bareback sex can transmit HIV, I’m not sure what it’ll take to convince them to get tested. But here’s one idea: text messages. Those who get SMS reminders to get their blood screened are twice as likely to actually do it.

Gay and other men who have sex with men in Australia are recommended to have an annual HIV test. More frequent tests, at intervals of every three to six months, are recommended for individuals with riskier sex lives. Mathematical modelling has suggested that increasing the proportion of individuals who are aware of their HIV status could help reduce HIV incidence. However, only a quarter of high-risk gay men have two or more HIV tests and sexual health screens each year.

Investigators from the Sydney Sexual Health Centre wished to see if sending text or SMS reminders to gay men increased testing rates. To test this, they designed a study involving 714 HIV-negative gay men who had an HIV test and sexual health screen between January and August 2009. Every four months, reminders to re-test were sent to these individuals.

Testing frequency in these individuals was compared to those of two other groups. The first included 1084 men who had an initial HIV test or sexual health screen in the same period, but did not receive text reminders. The second comparison group included 1753 men who were tested at the clinic in 2008, and therefore before the introduction of the text reminder service. Results of the study showed that re-testing rates were significantly higher in the group who received text reminders (64%) than the comparison group (30%, p < 0.001), and the pre-text population (31%, p < 0.001). After taking into account some differences in the study groups, the investigators found that receiving a text reminder was associated with a four-fold increase in the chances of re-testing (odds ratio [OR] = 4.4; 95% CI, 3.5 – 5.5, p < 0.001).

Now someone perform a study to see if text message reminders for “find the love of your life” and “call your mother” also influence behavior.