Computer learning better than traditional counseling when educating injection drug users about HIV/AIDS

Injection drug users who studied HIV/AIDS causes and prevention via computer learned more about the disease than users who attended traditional counseling sessions, according to new research.

Even three months after the study, participants in the computer program scored higher on tests that gauged their HIV/AIDS knowledge. The study was published in the American Journal of Health Behavior.

All drug users reported less risky behavior with regard to HIV infection after participating in the study, regardless of whether they received the computer or counselor-based intervention, say Lisa Marsch, Ph.D., and Warren Bickel, Ph.D., of the University of Vermont and HealthSim Inc.

But participants in the computer program expressed more interest in their three to five computer trainings than those who sat through two counseling sessions and a video showed for their educational activities.

“The highly interactive learning process required by the computer-based intervention likely contributed to how interesting participants perceived it to be,” Marsch says.

The computer users also showed signs of wanting to continue their HIV education after the study’s end, with 80 percent of the computer users asking for follow-up materials, compared with 40 percent of the counseling group.

Marsch and Bickel designed the computer intervention especially for injection drug users, to boost knowledge about HIV/AIDS, its risks and preventive measures. The interactive program includes both multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank quizzes, delivered at a speed that adjusts to how quickly and accurately a person responds to each question.

The researchers tested how well the computer-based intervention fared against regular counseling in 30 injection drug users who had entered a clinic for buprenorphine therapy, a treatment used to break addiction to heroin and other addictive opioid drugs.

Marsch and Bickel say it’s hard to tell whether the intervention, the buprenorphine or a combination helped lower risky behaviors among the study participants.

Marsch says the results are consistent with other studies showing that computers are effective tools for changing health behavior, “although the costs of computer-based interventions have been shown to be markedly lower.”

The study was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and HealthSim Inc.

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