HealthCall: A randomized trial assessing a smartphone enhancement of brief interventions to reduce heavy drinking in HIV care

INTRODUCTION: Heavy drinking among people living with HIV (PLWH) worsens their health outcomes and disrupts their HIV care. Although brief interventions to reduce heavy drinking in primary care are effective, more extensive intervention may be needed in PLWH with moderate-to-severe alcohol use disorder. Lengthy interventions are not feasible in most HIV primary care settings, and patients seldom follow referrals to outside treatment. Utilizing visual and video features of smartphone technology, we developed the “HealthCall” app to provide continued engagement after brief intervention, reduce drinking, and improve other aspects of HIV care with minimal demands on providers. We conducted a randomized trial of its efficacy.

METHODS: The study recruited alcohol-dependent PLWH (n = 114) from a large urban HIV clinic. Using a 1:1:1 randomized design, the study assigned patients to: Motivational Interviewing (MI) plus HealthCall (n = 39); NIAAA Clinician’s Guide (CG) plus HealthCall (n = 38); or CG-only (n = 37). Baseline MI and CG interventions took ~25 min, with brief (10-15 min) 30- and 60-day booster sessions. HealthCall involved daily use of the smartphone app (3-5 min/day) to report drinking and health in the prior 24 h. Outcomes assessed at 30 and 60 days and at 3, 6 and 12 months included drinks per drinking day (DpDD; primary outcome) and number of drinking days, analyzed with generalized linear mixed models and pre-planned contrasts.

RESULTS: Study retention was excellent (85%-94% across timepoints). At 30 days, DpDD among patients in MI + HealthCall, CG + HealthCall, and CG-only was 3.80, 5.28, and 5.67, respectively; patients in MI + HealthCall drank less than CG-only and CG + HealthCall (IRRs = 0.62, 95% CI = 0.46, 0.84, and 0.64, 95% CI = 0.48, 0.87, respectively). At 6 months (end-of-treatment), DpDD was lower in CG + HealthCall (DpDD = 4.88) than MI + HealthCall (DpDD = 5.88) or CG-only (DpDD = 6.91), although these differences were not significant. At 12 months, DpDD was 5.73, 5.31, and 6.79 in MI + HealthCall, CG + HealthCall, and CG-only, respectively; DpDD was significantly lower in CG + HealthCall than CG-only (IRR = 0.71, 95% CI = 0.51, 0.98).

CONCLUSIONS: During treatment, patients in MI + HealthCall had lower DpDD than patients in other conditions; however, at 12 months, drinking was lowest among patients in CG + HealthCall. Given the importance of drinking reduction and the low costs/time required for HealthCall, pairing HealthCall with brief interventions merits widespread consideration.

Full citation:
Hasin DS, Aharonovich E, Zingman BS, Stohl M, Walsh C, Elliott JC, Fink DS, Knox J, Durant S, Menchaca R, Sharma A (2022).
HealthCall: A randomized trial assessing a smartphone enhancement of brief interventions to reduce heavy drinking in HIV care
Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 138, 108733. doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2022.108733. PMCID: PMC9167215.