Feasibility, acceptability, and design of a mobile ecological momentary assessment for high-risk men who have sex with men in Hanoi, Vietnam: Qualitative study

BACKGROUND: Men who have sex with men (MSM) are at a disproportionate risk for HIV infection and common mental disorders worldwide. In the context of HIV, common mental disorders are important and are frequent drivers of suboptimal prevention and treatment outcomes. Mobile ecological momentary assessments (EMAs), or the repeated sampling of people’s behaviors and psychological states in their daily lives using mobile phones, can clarify the triggers and HIV-related sequelae of depressive-anxious symptoms and contribute toward the design of ecological momentary interventions (EMIs) that cater to the contextually varying needs of individuals to optimize prevention and treatment outcomes.

OBJECTIVE: This study aims to characterize the feasibility and acceptability of mobile EMA among high-risk MSM in Hanoi, Vietnam. It aims to evaluate the perceived relevance, usability, and concerns of this group with regard to the content and delivery of mobile EMA and the potential of leveraging such platforms in the future to deliver EMIs.

METHODS: Between January and April 2018, a total of 46 participants were recruited. The participants completed 6 to 8 mobile EMA surveys daily for 7 days. Surveys occurred once upon waking, 4 to 6 times throughout the day, and once before sleeping. All surveys queried participants’ perceived safety, social interactions, psychological state, and mental health symptoms. The morning survey further queried on sleep and medication use within the past 24 hours, whereas the night survey queried on sexual activity and substance use and allowed participants to share an audio recording of a stressful experience they had that day. At the end of the week, participants were interviewed about their experiences with using the app.

RESULTS: Participants completed an average of 21.7 (SD 12.7) prompts over the 7-day period. Excluding nonresponders, the average compliance rate was 61.8% (SD 26.6%). A thematic analysis of qualitative interviews suggested an overall positive reception of the app and 5 recurring themes, which were centered on the relevance of psychological and behavioral items to daily experiences (eg, mental health symptoms and audio recording), benefits of using the app (eg, increased self-understanding), worries and concerns (eg, privacy), usability (eg, confusion about the interface), and recommendations for future design (eg, integrating more open-ended questions).

CONCLUSIONS: Mobile EMA is feasible and acceptable among young MSM in Vietnam; however, more research is needed to adapt EMA protocols to this context and enhance compliance. Most participants eagerly provided information about their mental health status and daily activities. As several participants looked toward the app for further mental health and psychosocial support, EMIs have the potential to reduce HIV and mental health comorbidity among MSM.

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Full citation:
Trang K, Le LX, Brown CA, To MQ, Sullivan PS, Jovanovic T, Worthman CM, Giang LM (2022).
Feasibility, acceptability, and design of a mobile ecological momentary assessment for high-risk men who have sex with men in Hanoi, Vietnam: Qualitative study
JMIR Formative Research, 6 (1), e30360. doi: 10.2196/30360.