Background: Low adherence in recent HIV prevention clinical trials highlights the need to better understand, measure, and support product use within clinical trials. Conventional self-reported adherence instruments within HIV prevention trials, often relying on single-item questions, have proven ineffective. While objective adherence measures are desirable, none currently exist that apply to both active and placebo arms. Scales are composed of multiple items in the form of questions or statements that, when combined, measure a more complex construct that may not be directly observable. When psychometrically validated, such measures may better assess the multiple factors contributing to adherence/non-adherence. This study aimed to develop and psychometrically evaluate tools to screen and monitor trial participants' adherence to HIV prevention products within the context of clinical trial research.
Methods and findings: Based on an extensive literature review and conceptual framework, we identified and refined 86 items assessing potential predictors of adherence and 48 items assessing adherence experience. A structured survey, including adherence items and other variables, was administered to former ASPIRE and Ring Study participants and similar non-trial participants (n = 709). We conducted exploratory factor analyses (EFA) to identify a reduced set of constructs and items that could be used at screening to predict potential adherence, and at follow-up to monitor and intervene on adherence. We examined associations with other variables to assess content and construct validity. The EFA of screener items resulted in a 6-factor solution with acceptable to very good internal reliability (α: .62-.84). Similar to our conceptual framework, factors represent trial-related commitment (Distrust of Research and Commitment to Research); alignment with trial requirements (Visit Adherence and Trial Incompatibility); Belief in Trial Benefits and Partner Disclosure. The EFA on monitoring items resulted in 4 Product-specific factors that represent Vaginal Ring Doubts, Vaginal Ring Benefits, Ring Removal, and Side Effects with good to very good internal reliability (α = .71-.82). Evidence of content and construct validity was found; relationship to social desirability bias was examined.
Conclusions: These scales are easy and inexpensive to administer, available in several languages, and are applicable regardless of randomization. Once validated prospectively, they could (1) screen for propensity to adhere, (2) target adherence support/counselling, and (3) complement biomarker measures in determining true efficacy of the experimental product.