The effects of HIV testing advocacy messages on test acceptance: A randomized clinical trial

Monica L. Kasting, Anthony D. Cox, Cox D. Dena, Kenneth H. Fife, Barry P. Katz, Gregory D. Zimet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Scopus citations


Background: Nearly 1 in 5 people living with HIV in the United States are unaware they are infected. Therefore, it is important to develop and evaluate health communication messages that clinicians can use to encourage HIV testing. Methods: The objective was to evaluate health communication messages designed to increase HIV testing rates among women and evaluate possible moderators of message effect. We used a randomized four-arm clinical trial conducted at urban community outpatient health clinics involving 1,919 female patients, 18 to 64 years old. The four health message intervention groups were: i) information-only control; ii) one-sided message describing the advantages of HIV testing; iii) two-sided message acknowledging a superficial objection to testing (i.e., a 20 minute wait for results) followed by a description of the advantages of testing; and iv) two-sided message acknowledging a serious objection (i.e., fear of testing positive for HIV) followed by a description of the advantages of testing. The main outcome was acceptance of an oral rapid HIV test. Results: Participants were randomized to receive the control message (n = 483), one-sided message (n = 480), two-sided message with a superficial objection (n = 481), or two-sided message with a serious objection (n = 475). The overall rate of HIV test acceptance was 83%. The two-sided message groups were not significantly different from the controls. The one-sided message group, however, had a lower rate of testing (80%) than the controls (86%) (OR, 0.66; 95% CI, 0.47-0.93; P = 0.018). "Perceived obstacles to HIV testing" moderated this effect, indicating that the decrease in HIV test acceptance for the one-sided message group was only statistically significant for those who had reported high levels of obstacles to HIV testing (OR, 0.36; 95% CI, 0.19-0.67; P = 0.001). Conclusions: None of the messages increased test acceptance. The one-sided message decreased acceptance and this effect was particularly true for women with greater perceived obstacles to testing, the very group one would most want to persuade. This finding suggests that efforts to persuade those who are reluctant to get tested, in some circumstances, may have unanticipated negative effects. Other approaches to messaging around HIV testing should be investigated, particularly with diverse, behaviorally high-risk populations. Trial registration: Identifier: NCT00771537. Registration date: October 10. 2008

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number204
JournalBMC medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014


  • Attitude to health
  • HIV
  • HIV infections/diagnosis
  • Health communication
  • Intervention studies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

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