Division of General Internal Medicine

Social Media for HIV Prevention

Dr. Viraj Patel General Internal 

Medicine Albert Einstein College of Medicine Montefiore Medical Center Bronx 

Viraj V. Patel, MD

Young men of color who have sex with men have the highest rates of new HIV infections in the U.S., and existing prevention interventions fail to reach most of this population. Dr. Viraj Patel, Assistant Professor (General Internal Medicine) has initiated a research study using social media to encourage and increase the use of pre-exposure prevention medication among this traditionally hard-to-reach group of individuals.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), an oral antiretroviral regimen taken daily by HIV-uninfected individuals to prevent HIV acquisition, has shown to reduce HIV acquisition risk in some high-risk populations. Additionally, young peoples' use of social media like Facebook, Twitter, and online dating sites provides an efficient avenue to identify and connect with large populations of people at high risk, rapidly distribute information about effective HIV prevention tools, and motivate behavior change. 

Funded by a Mentored Patient-Oriented Research Career Development Award (K23) from the National Institute of Mental Health for his research project entitled "Social Media Based Peer Led Intervention to Facilitate PrPEP in YMSM of Color", Dr. Patel will develop and test a social-media-based, peer-led intervention to encourage YMCSM to take PrEP. The study aims to reduce HIV transmission and improve health outcomes among hard-to-reach populations, as well as to illuminate how using social media/networking tools may affect health behaviors more broadly.

In the course of the study, Dr. Patel will interview young men who take PrEP, as well as those who do not, to identify both motivators of and barriers to PrEP. Partnering with YMCSM peer leaders, he will develop a targeted social media-based intervention to facilitate PrEP use. Peer leaders will use online messaging and direct discussions to to reach and engage these "hidden" communities, providing PrEP education, increasing interest in PrEP use, and facilitating access to PrEP. 

Dr. Patel is a clinician-investigator in the Division of General Internal Medicine and a faculty member in the Primary Care/Social Internal Medicine residency program. He directs the resident scholarly projects in the primary care/social internal medicine program and teaches medical students in the care of LGBT populations. He is active in community-based settings and serves on the board of directors for a South Asian nonprofit in New York City that promotes social justice and empowerment for new immigrants, and serves in an advisory capacity for an India-based nonprofit organizaiton that works to promote the health and human rights of LGBT communities. He received his medical degree from Medical University of South Carolina and completed his residency training at Montefiore in the Primary Care/Social Internal Medicine program. He then completed a clinical research fellowship in the Department of Social Medicine and obtained a Master’s in Public Health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine focusing on community-based participatory research.

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