Introduction: Daily pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV-prevention is an essential component of national plans to end the HIV epidemic. Despite its well-documented safety and effectiveness, PrEP prescription has not met the public health need. Significant disparities between White and Black people exist with respect to PrEP prescription, as do disparities between men and women. One factor contributing to these disparities is clinicians' assumptions about patients seeking PrEP.
Methods: The present study sought to investigate medical students' assumptions about patients seeking PrEP (anticipated increased condomless sex, extra-relational sex, and adherence to PrEP), and assumed HIV risk when presenting with their sexual partner. We systematically varied the race (Black or White) and gender (man or woman) of a fictional patient and their sexual partner. All were in serodifferent relationships including men who have sex with men (MSM), women (MSW), and women who have sex with men (WSM). Participants also completed an implicit association test measuring implicit racism against Black people. We evaluated the moderation effects of patient and partner race on assumptions as well as the moderated moderation effects of implicit racism.
Results: A total of 1,472 students participated. For MSM patients, having a Black partner was associated with higher assumed patient non-adherence to PrEP compared to a White partner, however a White partner was associated with higher assumed HIV risk. For MSW patients, a White male patient was viewed as being more likely to engage in more extra-relational sex compared to a Black male patient. For WSM patients, White women were assumed to be more likely to have condomless and extra-relational sex, be nonadherent to PrEP, and were at higher HIV risk. Overall, implicit racism was not related to negative assumptions about Black patients as compared to White patients based on patient/partner race.
Discussion: Medical education about PrEP for HIV prevention must ensure future health professionals understand the full range of patients who are at risk for HIV, as well as how implicit racial biases may affect assumptions about patients in serodifferent couples seeking PrEP for HIV prevention. As gatekeepers for PrEP prescription, clinicians' assumptions about patients seeking PrEP represent a barrier to access. Consistent with prior research, we identified minimal effects of race and implicit racism in an experimental setting.