Cleveland, OH,
09:27 AM

Positive Peers App Helps Young People Living With HIV

MetroHealth’s Jennifer McMillen Smith has worked with young people living with HIV for 21 years, but she’s the first to admit she’s no expert on the virus.

“They’re the real experts,” Smith, a licensed independent social worker, said of her clients. “They have that lived experience of being a young person with HIV. They’ve lived the isolation and stigma that can go along with a diagnosis. They often just want to know they aren’t alone.”

Smith often stresses the importance of community at her HIV support groups – even encouraging participants to exchange phone numbers. Naturally, they connect on social media instead. So, after piloting a private Facebook group, Smith’s clients wanted something more: their own social network.

MetroHealth made it happen. Now it’s going national.

Positive Peers – which MetroHealth developed with Blue Star Design and Blackbird Digital, two local marketing and web development firms – is a private social media app for young adults, ages 13 to 34, who are living with HIV.

The app offers health management tools, health information and a social platform where patients can post on a community bulletin board or direct-message other users.

The platform’s publicly facing website – – also includes hundreds of blog posts with information important to young adults living with HIV, including:

The idea, when it was hatched in 2015, was that patients using the app would be more involved in their health care, feel less isolated and would be better prepared to live life with HIV. Data suggest that is all true: The Positive Peers community is 3.2 times more likely to achieve viral suppression, according to a recent evaluation by researchers from Kent State University College of Public Health.

More than a hundred MetroHealth patients are active on the social network, and now the Positive Peers team is reaching out to health providers across the country, particularly those serving communities with high concentrations of patients living with HIV.

“The Positive Peers App is a community – the more people in the community, the better the community is,” said Dr. Ann K. Avery, a MetroHealth infectious disease physician and principal investigator on the project.

The Positive Peers project was made possible through a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration, HIV/AIDS Bureau Special Projects of National Significance (SPNS) Grant. You can read more about the app in the 2019 Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program biennial report.

About the MetroHealth System

The MetroHealth System is redefining health care by going beyond medical treatment to improve the foundations of community health and well-being: affordable housing, a cleaner environment, economic opportunity and access to fresh food, convenient transportation, legal help and other services. The system strives to become as good at preventing disease as it is at treating it.

The system’s more than 600 doctors, 1,700 nurses and 7,800 employees go to work each day with a mission of service, to their patients and to the community. As Cuyahoga County’s safety-net health system, MetroHealth plays an essential role in the region, caring for anyone and everyone, regardless of an ability to pay.

Founded in 1837, MetroHealth operates four hospitals, four emergency departments and more than 20 health centers and 40 additional sites throughout Cuyahoga County. The system serves more than 300,000 patients, two-thirds of whom are uninsured or covered by Medicare or Medicaid.

MetroHealth is home to Cuyahoga County’s most experienced Level I Adult Trauma Center, verified since 1992, and Ohio’s only adult and pediatric trauma and burn center.

As an academic medical center, MetroHealth is committed to research and to teaching and training tomorrow’s caregivers. Each active staff physician holds a faculty appointment at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. Its main campus hospital houses the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s Lincoln-West School of Science & Health, the only high school in America located inside a hospital.

Knowing that good health is about much more than good medical care, MetroHealth has launched the Institute for H.O.P.E.™ (Health, Opportunity, Partnership, Empowerment), which uses a coordinated, collaborative and strategic approach to help patients with non-medical needs such as healthy food, stable housing and job training.

The MetroHealth Glick Center, a new 11-floor hospital, is under construction on the system’s main campus in Cleveland and is scheduled to welcome its first patients in October 2022. The billion-dollar project is the cornerstone of a wider neighborhood revitalization effort led by the system and its partners in the community.

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