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Use of electronic personal health record systems to encourage HIV screening: an exploratory study of patient and provider perspectives

D Keith McInnes12*, Jeffrey L Solomon1, Barbara G Bokhour12, Steven M Asch34, David Ross5, Kim M Nazi6 and Allen L Gifford127

Author Affiliations

1 Center for Health Quality, Outcomes & Economic Research, ENRM VA Medical Center, Bedford, MA, USA

2 Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA

3 VA Palo Alto Health Care System, Palo Alto, CA, USA

4 Division of General Medical Disciplines, Stanford School of Medicine, Stanford, CA, USA

5 VA Public Health Strategic Health Care Group, Washington, DC, USA

6 VA Veterans and Consumers Health Informatics Office, Washington, DC, USA

7 Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA

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BMC Research Notes 2011, 4:295  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-4-295

Published: 15 August 2011



When detected, HIV can be effectively treated with antiretroviral therapy. Nevertheless in the U.S. approximately 25% of those who are HIV-infected do not know it. Much remains unknown about how to increase HIV testing rates. New Internet outreach methods have the potential to increase disease awareness and screening among patients, especially as electronic personal health records (PHRs) become more widely available. In the US Department of Veterans' Affairs medical care system, 900,000 veterans have indicated an interest in receiving electronic health-related communications through the PHR. Therefore we sought to evaluate the optimal circumstances and conditions for outreach about HIV screening. In an exploratory, qualitative research study we examined patient and provider perceptions of Internet-based outreach to increase HIV screening among veterans who use the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) health care system.


We conducted two rounds of focus groups with veterans and healthcare providers at VHA medical centers. The study's first phase elicited general perceptions of an electronic outreach program to increase screening for HIV, diabetes, and high cholesterol. Using phase 1 results, outreach message texts were drafted and then presented to participants in the second phase. Analysis followed modified grounded theory.

Patients and providers indicated that electronic outreach through a PHR would provide useful information and would motivate patients to be screened for HIV. Patients believed that electronic information would be more convenient and understandable than information provided verbally. Patients saw little difference between messages about HIV versus about diabetes and cholesterol. Providers, however, felt patients would disapprove of HIV-related messages due to stigma. Providers expected increased workload from the electronic outreach, and thus suggested adding primary care resources and devising methods to smooth the flow of patients getting screened. When provided a choice between unsecured emails versus PHRs as the delivery mechanism for disease screening messages, both patients and providers preferred PHRs.


There is considerable potential to use PHR systems for electronic outreach and social marketing to communicate to patients about, and increase rates of, disease screening, including for HIV. Planning for direct-to-patient communications through PHRs should include providers and address provider reservations, especially about workload increases.