Introduction: In order to facilitate scale-up of antiretroviral therapy (ART) in Malawi, innovative and pragmatic models have been developed to optimize the efficiency of HIV service delivery. In particular, three models of differentiated care have emerged for stable patients: adjusted appointment spacing through multi-month scripting (MMS); fast-track drug refills (FTRs) on alternating visits; and community ART groups (CAGs) where group members rotate in collecting medications at the facility for all members. This study aimed to assess the extent to which ART patients in Malawi are differentiated based on clinical stability and describe the characteristics and costs associated with the models of differentiated care offered.
Methods: A mixed methods process evaluation was conducted from 30 purposefully selected ART facilities. Cross-sectional data for this evaluation was collected between February and May 2016. The following forms of data collection are reported here: structured surveys with 136 health care workers; reviews of 75,364 patient clinical records; 714 observations of visit time and flow; and 30 questionnaires on facility characteristics.
Results: Among ART patients, 77.5% (95% confidence interval [CI] 74.1-80.6) were eligible for differentiated models of care based on criteria for clinical stability from national guidelines. Across all facilities, 69% of patients were receiving MMS. In facilities offering FTRs and CAGs, 67% and 6% of patients were enrolled in the models, respectively. However, eligibility criteria were used inconsistently: 72.9% (95% CI 66.3-78.6) of eligible patients and 42.3% (95% CI 33.1-52.0) ineligible patients received MMS. Results indicated that patient travel and time costs were reduced by 67%, and the unit costs of ART service delivery through the MMS, FTR and CAG models were similar, representing a reduction of approximately 10% in the annual unit cost of providing care to stable patients that receive no model.
Conclusions: MMS is being implemented nationally and has already generated cost savings and efficiencies in Malawi for patients and the health system, but could be improved by more accurate patient differentiation. While expanding FTRs and CAGs may not offer significant further cost savings in Malawi, future studies should investigate if such alternative models lead to improvements in patient satisfaction or clinical outcomes that might justify their implementation.
Keywords: HIV; costing; differentiated care; mixed methods; process evaluation.