Enhancing retention of an Internet-based cohort study of men who have sex with men (MSM) via text messaging: randomized controlled trial

J Med Internet Res. 2013 Aug 27;15(8):e194. doi: 10.2196/jmir.2756.


Background: Black and Hispanic men who have sex with men (MSM) are disproportionately affected by HIV in the United States. The Internet is a promising vehicle for delivery of HIV prevention interventions to these men, but retention of MSM of color in longitudinal Internet-based studies has been problematic. Text message follow-up may enhance retention in these studies.

Objective: To compare retention in a 12-month prospective Internet-based study of HIV-negative MSM randomized to receive bimonthly follow-up surveys either through an Internet browser online or through text messages.

Methods: Internet-using MSM were recruited through banner advertisements on social networking and Internet-dating sites. White, black, and Hispanic men who were ≥18, completed an online baseline survey, and returned an at-home HIV test kit, which tested HIV negative, were eligible. Men were randomized to receive follow-up surveys every 2 months on the Internet or by text message for 12 months (unblinded). We used time-to-event methods to compare the rate of loss-to-follow-up (defined as non-response to a follow-up survey after multiple systematically-delivered contact attempts) in the 2 follow-up groups, overall and by race/ethnicity. Results are reported as hazard ratios (HR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) of the rate of loss-to-follow-up for men randomized to text message follow-up compared to online follow-up.

Results: Of 1489 eligible and consenting men who started the online baseline survey, 895 (60%) completed the survey and were sent an at-home HIV test kit. Of these, 710 of the 895 (79%) returned the at-home HIV test kit, tested HIV-negative, and were followed prospectively. The study cohort comprised 66% white men (470/710), 15% (106/710) black men, and 19% (134/710) Hispanic men. At 12 months, 77% (282/366) of men randomized to online follow-up were retained in the study, compared to 70% (241/344) men randomized to text message follow-up (HR=1.30, 95% CI 0.97-1.73). The rate of loss-to-follow-up was non-significantly higher in the text message arm compared to the online arm for both white (HR=1.43, 95% CI 0.97-1.73) and Hispanic men (HR=1.71, 95% CI 0.91-3.23); however, loss-to-follow-up among black men was non-significantly lower among those who received text message follow-up compared to online follow-up (HR=0.78, 95% CI 0.41-1.50). In the online arm, black men were significantly more likely to be lost to follow-up compared to white men (HR=2.25, 95% CI 1.36-3.71), but this was not the case in the text message arm (HR=1.23, 95% CI 0.70-2.16).

Conclusions: We retained >70% of MSM enrolled in an online study for 12 months; thus, engaging men in online studies for a sufficient time to assess sustained outcomes is possible. Text message follow-up of an online cohort of MSM is feasible, and may result in higher retention among black MSM.

Keywords: HIV infections/prevention and control; Internet/organization and administration; SMS text messaging; homosexuality; male/statistics and numerical data; prospective studies.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies
  • HIV Seronegativity
  • Homosexuality, Male*
  • Humans
  • Internet*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Text Messaging*