Mobile phone-based data collection to enhance retention of racial/ethnic minorities in a longitudinal internet-based HIV behavioral risk study of MSM in the United States

Published: July 19, 2011

Background: Internet-based studies of MSM in the United States have not demonstrated adequate retention of racial/ethnic minorities. Because mobile phone ownership among black and Hispanic Americans is high, use of text messaging (SMS) for followup surveys may increase the retention of minority MSM. A current online, prospective study of HIV behavioral risk aims to compare the retention of participants who were randomized to receive either SMS or online follow-up surveys.

Methods: Internet-using MSM were recruited through banner advertisements on social networking sites. Men were eligible to participate in the study if they were: (1) over age 18, (2) white, black, or Hispanic, (3) had ≥1 male sex partner in the past 12 months, and (4) had an SMS-enabled mobile phone. Consenting men who completed the baseline survey online were randomized to receive 2-monthly follow-up surveys by either SMS or online.

Results: 895 men were randomized into either the SMS (n=442) or online (n=453) group. To date, 86.0% (442 of 514) of participants have been retained at the 2-month follow-up time point. There is no difference in overall retention by followup method: 87.1% of SMS and 84.9% of online participants have completed the 2-month followup survey. However, black participants in the SMS group have a significantly higher retention compared to blacks in the online group (91.4% vs 68.8%, respectively; p=0.01). This difference is not present for white or Hispanic participants.

Conclusion: Because the development of online HIV prevention interventions is of interest, utilizing appropriate technologies to enhance retention is critical. Our data suggest that overall retention is independent of the data collection approach; however, retention among black study participants is significantly higher for those in the SMS group. Online studies aimed to retain minority MSM may benefit by incorporating SMS surveys as a method to engage study participants of color.

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