Dworkin, M. S., Chakraborty, A., Lee, S., Monahan, C., Hightow-Weidman, L., Garofalo, R., Qato, D. M., Liu, L. C., Jimenez, A.
Journal of Medial Internet Research mHealth and uHealth, 6(7).
Publication year: 2018


BackgroundAvatars and embodied agents are a promising innovation for human health intervention because they may serve as a relational agent that might augment user engagement in a behavioral change intervention and motivate behavioral change such as antiretroviral adherence and retention in care.

ObjectiveThis study aimed to develop a theory-driven talking avatar-like embodied agent mobile phone intervention guided by the information-motivation-behavioral skills model to promote HIV medication adherence and retention in care in young African American men who have sex with men (MSM).

MethodsWe performed 5 iterative focus groups in Chicago with HIV-positive African American MSM aged 18-34 years to inform the ongoing development of a mobile phone app. Participants for the focus groups were recruited from 4 University of Illinois at Chicago Community Outreach Intervention Project sites located in different high HIV incidence areas of the city and the University of Illinois at Chicago HIV clinic using fliers and word of mouth. The focus group data analysis included developing an ongoing list of priorities for app changes and discussion between two of the investigators based on the project timeline, resources, and to what extent they served the app’s objectives.

ResultsIn this study, 16 men participated, including 3 who participated in two groups. The acceptability for an embodied agent app was universal in all 5 focus groups. The app included the embodied agent response to questions and antiretroviral regimen information, adherence tracking, CD4 count and viral load tracking, motivational spoken messages, and customizability. Concerns that were identified and responded to in the development process included privacy, stigma, avoiding the harsh or commanding tone of voice, avoiding negative motivational statements, and making reminder functions for a variety of health care interactions.

ConclusionsAn avatar-like embodied agent mHealth approach was acceptable to young HIV-positive African American MSM. Its relational nature may make it an effective method of informing, motivating, and promoting health behavioral skills. Furthermore, the app’s ease of access, stigma-free environment, and audiovisual format may help overcome some adherence barriers reported in this population.



  • adherence;
  • mHealth;
  • HIV;
  • African American;
  • men who have sex with men;
  • avatar, embodied agent