Qualitative Thematic Analysis of Social Media Data to Assess Perceptions of Route of Administration for Antiretroviral Treatment among People Living with HIV

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Background: HIV is a condition that requires lifelong treatment. Treatment options currently consist of oral antiretroviral therapies (ART) taken once or twice daily. Long-acting injectable HIV treatments are currently in development to be administered monthly or every other month. Preferences for route of administration could influence treatment adherence, which could affect treatment outcomes. The purpose of this study was to examine patient perceptions of oral and injectable routes of administration for ART. Methods: Qualitative thematic analysis was conducted to examine 5122 online discussion threads by people living with HIV (PLHIV) in the POZ Community Forums from January 2013 to June 2018. Analysis focused on identifying perceptions of oral or injectable routes of administration for ART. Relevant threads were extracted and imported into the qualitative data analysis software package ATLAS.ti.8 so that text could be reviewed and coded. Results: Analyses identified 684 relevant discussion threads including 2626 coded quotations from online posts by 568 PLHIV. The oral route of administration was discussed more frequently than injectable (2516 quotations for oral; 110 injectable). Positive statements on the oral route of administration commonly mentioned the small number of pills (276 quotations), dose frequency (245), ease of scheduling (153), and ease of use (146). PLHIV also noted disadvantages of the oral route of administration including negative emotional impact (166), difficulty with medication access (106), scheduling (131), and treatment adherence (121). Among the smaller number of PLHIV discussing injectable ART, common positive comments focused on dose frequency (34), emotional benefits of not taking a daily pill (7), potential benefits for adherence (6), overall convenience (6), and benefits for traveling (6). Some comments from PLHIV perceived the frequency of injections negatively (10), and others had negative perceptions of needles (8) or appointments required to receive injections (7). Conclusions: Qualitative analysis revealed that route of administration was frequently discussed among PLHIV on this online forum. While many expressed positive views about their daily oral medication regimen, others perceived inconveniences and challenges. Among PLHIV who were aware of a possible monthly injectable treatment, many viewed this new route of administration as a convenient alternative with potential to improve adherence.