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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Harm reduction interventions in HIV care: a qualitative exploration of patient and provider perspectives

Suzanne Carlberg-Racich
PeerJ 2016, 4: e1932
27114879
Background. A culture of stringent drug policy, one-size-fits-all treatment approaches, and drug-related stigma has clouded clinical HIV practice in the United States. The result is a series of missed opportunities in the HIV care environment. An approach which may address the broken relationship between patient and provider is harm reduction-which removes judgment and operates at the patient's stage of readiness. Harm reduction is not a routine part of care; rather, it exists outside clinic walls, exacerbating the divide between compassionate, stigma-free services and the medical system. Methods. Qualitative, phenomenological, semi-structured, individual interviews with patients and providers were conducted in three publicly-funded clinics in Chicago, located in areas of high HIV prevalence and drug use and serving African-American patients (N = 38). A deductive thematic analysis guided the process, including: the creation of an index code list, transcription and verification of interviews, manual coding, notation of emerging themes and refinement of code definitions, two more rounds of coding within AtlasTi, calculation of Cohen's Kappa for interrater reliability, queries of major codes and analysis of additional common themes. Results. Thematic analysis of findings indicated that the majority of patients felt receptive to harm reduction interventions (safer injection counseling, safer stimulant use counseling, overdose prevention information, supply provision) from their provider, and expressed anticipated gratitude for harm reduction information and/or supplies within the HIV care visit, although some were reluctant to talk openly about their drug use. Provider results were mixed, with more receptivity reported by advanced practice nurses, and more barriers cited by physicians. Notable barriers included: role-perceptions, limited time, inadequate training, and the patients themselves. Discussion. Patients are willing to receive harm reduction interventions from their HIV care providers, while provider receptiveness is mixed. The findings reveal critical implications for diffusion of harm reduction into HIV care, including the need to address cited barriers for both patients and providers to ensure feasibility of implementation. Strategies to address these barriers are discussed, and recommendations for further research are also shared.

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