Background: Retention in HIV care improves survival and reduces the risk of HIV transmission to others. Multiple quantitative studies have described demographic and clinical characteristics associated with retention in HIV care. However, qualitative studies are needed to better understand barriers and facilitators.
Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 51 HIV-infected individuals, 25 who were retained in care and 26 not retained in care, from 3 urban clinics. Interview data were analyzed for themes using a modified grounded theory approach. Identified themes were compared between the two groups of interest: patients retained in care and those not retained in care.
Results: Overall, participants identified 12 barriers and 5 facilitators to retention in HIV care. On average, retained individuals provided 3 barriers, while persons not retained in care provided 5 barriers. Both groups commonly discussed depression/mental illness, feeling sick, and competing life activities as barriers. In addition, individuals not retained in care commonly reported expensive and unreliable transportation, stigma, and insufficient insurance as barriers. On average, participants in both groups referenced 2 facilitators, including the presence of social support, patient-friendly clinic services (transportation, co-location of services, scheduling/reminders), and positive relationships with providers and clinic staff.
Conclusions: In our study, patients not retained in care faced more barriers, particularly social and structural barriers, than those retained in care. Developing care models where social and financial barriers are addressed, mental health and substance abuse treatment is integrated, and patient-friendly services are offered is important to keeping HIV-infected individuals engaged in care.