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, Cuyahoga County’s public health system, is honoring its commitment to create a healthier community by building a new hospital on its main campus in Cleveland. The building and the 25 acres of green space around it are catalyzing the revitalization of MetroHealth’s West Side neighborhood.

MetroHealth broke ground on its new hospital in 2019. The project is being financed with nearly $1 billion the system borrowed on its own credit after dramatically improving its finances. In the past five years, MetroHealth’s operating revenue has increased by 40% and its number of employees by 21%. Today, its staff of 8,000 provides care at MetroHealth’s four hospitals, four emergency departments and more than 20 health centers and 40 additional sites throughout Cuyahoga County. In the past year, MetroHealth has served 300,000 patients at more than 1.4 million visits in its hospitals and health centers, 75% of whom are uninsured or covered by Medicare or Medicaid.

The health system 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 teaching and research. Each active staff physician holds a faculty appointment at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. Its main campus hospital houses a Cleveland Metropolitan School District high school of science and health.

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