In November 2020, Stanford Children’s Hospital launch such a program to provide accessible and comprehensive HIV-prevention services, including PrEP, from a team of providers for adolescents and young adults 25 years old and younger across California. Those enrolled in the program are connected with a pediatric and adolescent care provider trained to provide sexual health counseling, labs, and adherence support for PrEP, a daily pill that aims to reduce the risk of contracting HIV by more than 99%.
“The remote nature of the Virtual PrEP Program eliminates the need for patients to travel to a care facility, making ongoing care convenient and efficient, which is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Geoff Hart-Cooper, M.D., founder and medical director of the Virtual PrEP Program, said in a press release. “Virtual care allows us to meet youth where they are, even during transition to college or other moves, and offers an added layer of confidentiality, as it allows providers to communicate with patients one-on-one, without involving a parent or other guardian if that is the patient’s preference.”
Further, the Stanford Medicine Virtual PrEP Program offers provider-training webinars to educate pediatricians throughout California about prescribing and monitoring PrEP.
“Some providers, particularly pediatricians, may not be aware of or trained to provide HIV-prevention tools, such as PrEP, or may not have experience discussing sexual health with young patients, which can make it difficult for youth to disclose sexual behavior, or lead to concerns about confidentiality,” Megen Vo, M.D., associate medical director of the Virtual PrEP Program, said. “By connecting patients with providers specifically dedicated to administering PrEP support, the Virtual PrEP Program is mitigating these existing barriers to treatment, and the remote nature of the program enables us to accept youth referrals from physicians all over the state of California.”
Previous research has shown the benefits of telehealth services for PrEP delivery. In fact, in a study by Kimberly Koester, Ph.D., and a team of investigators, they focused on patient narratives of those who used a telehealth program for PrEP, participants preferred the convenience and flexibility of the technology. Participants also benefited being nudged into complying with recommended HIV and STI testing frequencies for sexually active men who have sex with men and obtaining reassurance that PrEP was safe, effective, and compatible with general good health.
Other benefits of telehealth for PrEP include the alleviation of some difficulties surrounding geographic isolation and reducing delivery barriers related to shortages of providers.
In a time when face-to-face visits have decreased in favor of virtual ones, PrEP delivery may also leverage technology to benefit patients and providers alike.