Testing the Efficacy of a Social Networking Gamification App to Improve Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis Adherence (P3: Prepared, Protected, emPowered): Protocol for a Randomized Controlled Trial

JMIR Res Protoc. 2018 Dec 18;7(12):e10448. doi: 10.2196/10448.


Background: HIV prevalence is high among young men who have sex with men (YMSM) and young transgender women who have sex with men (YTWSM), particularly among minorities. Despite its proven efficacy and safety, the uptake of and adherence to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) among YMSM and YTWSM is currently limited. To date, evidence-based interventions to promote and sustain PrEP adherence have been limited and not shown to be highly efficacious. Given the widespread adoption of smartphones, mobile apps can be utilized to increase PrEP adherence for many YMSM and YTWSM.

Objective: The study consists of a formative research phase to develop an app-based intervention, P3 (Prepared, Protected, emPowered), to increase PrEP adherence, and a randomized controlled trial (RCT) to test its efficacy. P3 is a mobile app built on an established health platform, which includes social networking and game-based components to encourage PrEP adherence among YMSM and YTWSM. P3+ includes all P3 features plus adherence counseling delivered via two-way text messaging (short message service, SMS) through the app.

Methods: The formative research phase includes usability testing to assess users' comprehension of P3's educational content, understanding and use of intervention features, and overall impressions of app functionality, followed by app refinements. A subsequent field trial will identify and resolve any remaining technical challenges. A three-arm RCT (P3, P3+, and standard of care) will then be conducted at 6 iTech subject recruitment venues to assess intervention efficacy and to conduct a comparison of costs to deliver the 2 intervention arms.

Results: This is an ongoing research project with initial results from the formative work expected in 2020 and those from the RCT in 2021.

Conclusions: P3 aims to provide an engaging, interactive experience that is highly appealing for the target population, leveraging technology already heavily integrated into the lives of young people, and thus meeting users' needs in a familiar, stimulating way. If efficacious, P3 could be a sustainable, easily disseminated, lower-cost PrEP intervention for YMSM and YTWSM. Further, the research aims to determine the processes that are essential to developing and implementing future health-related gamification interventions.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT03320512; https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03320512 (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/74OVZkICl).

International registered report identifier (irrid): DERR1-10.2196/10448.

Keywords: HIV; men who have sex with men; mobile apps; mobile phone; pre-exposure prophylaxis; transgender women; youth.

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT03320512