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 – PositivePeers.org – also includes hundreds of blog posts with information important to young adults living with HIV, including:
- How to make it through the upcoming holidays with HIV
- Tips for dealing with workplace harassment
- How to tell your partner you have HIV
- How to talk to your doctor about getting on PrEP
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.
Founded in 1837, MetroHealth is leading the way to a healthier you and a healthier community through service, teaching, discovery, and teamwork. Cuyahoga County’s public, safety-net hospital system, MetroHealth meets people where they are, providing care through four hospitals, four emergency departments, and more than 20 health centers and 40 additional sites. Each day, our 8,000 employees focus on providing our community with equitable health care–through patient-focused research, access to care, and support services–that seeks to eradicate health disparities rooted in systematic barriers. For more information, visit metrohealth.org.