The RSVP Project: Factors Related to Disengagement From Human Immunodeficiency Virus Care Among Persons in San Francisco

JMIR Public Health Surveill. 2017 May 4;3(2):e25. doi: 10.2196/publichealth.7325.


Background: In the United States, an estimated two-thirds of persons with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection do not achieve viral suppression, including those who have never engaged in HIV care and others who do not stay engaged in care. Persons with an unsuppressed HIV viral load might experience poor clinical outcomes and transmit HIV.

Objective: The goal of the Re-engaging Surveillance-identified Viremic Persons (RSVP) project in San Francisco, CA, was to use routine HIV surveillance databases to identify, contact, interview, and reengage in HIV care persons who appeared to be out of care because their last HIV viral load was unsuppressed. We aimed to interview participants about their HIV care and barriers to reengagement.

Methods: Using routinely collected HIV surveillance data, we identified persons with HIV who were out of care (no HIV viral load and CD4 laboratory reports during the previous 9-15 months) and with their last plasma HIV RNA viral load >200 copies/mL. We interviewed the located persons, at baseline and 3 months later, about whether and why they disengaged from HIV care and the barriers they faced to care reengagement. We offered them assistance with reengaging in HIV care from the San Francisco Department of Public Health linkage and navigation program (LINCS).

Results: Of 282 persons selected, we interviewed 75 (26.6%). Of these, 67 (89%) reported current health insurance coverage, 59 (79%) had ever been prescribed and 45 (60%) were currently taking HIV medications, 59 (79%) had seen an HIV provider in the past year, and 34 (45%) had missed an HIV appointment in the past year. Reasons for not seeing a provider included feeling healthy, using alcohol or drugs, not having enough money or health insurance, and not wanting to take HIV medicines. Services needed to get to an HIV medical care appointment included transportation assistance, stable living situation or housing, sound mental health, and organizational help and reminders about appointments. A total of 52 (69%) accepted a referral to LINCS. Additionally, 64 (85%) of the persons interviewed completed a follow-up interview 3 months later and, of these, 62 (97%) had health insurance coverage and 47 (73%) reported having had an HIV-related care appointment since the baseline interview.

Conclusions: Rather than being truly out of care, most participants reported intermittent HIV care, including recent HIV provider visits and health insurance coverage. Participants also frequently reported barriers to care and unmet needs. Health department assistance with HIV care reengagement was generally acceptable. Understanding why people previously in HIV care disengage from care and what might help them reengage is essential for optimizing HIV clinical and public health outcomes.

Keywords: HIV care; HIV care continuum; HIV surveillance; engagement in HIV care; linkage and navigation to care; viral suppression.