Carlos del Rio, MD, is the Hubert Professor and Chair of the Hubert Department of Global Health and co-Director for Clinical Sciences and International Research of the Emory Center for AIDS Research. He has been with the ACTG Network since 2007 when he began working with his colleague, Jeffrey Lennox, MD, the co-Principal Investigator for the Emory HIV Clinical Trials Unit. Serving as the Clinical Research Site Leader, Dr. del Rio has had the opportunity, and challenge, of working with newly diagnosed patients and recently enrolled study participants who are just beginning therapy and have many questions and concerns. In order to better communicate with his patients as well as to connect with potential study participants, members of the HIV/AIDS community, and fellow researchers, Dr. del Rio utilizes the popular social media site, Twitter.
“I have been active on Twitter for about a year now and have found that it is an extremely powerful way to communicate and reach a broad audience,” said Dr. del Rio. ”Social media is an important tool to inform others about HIV/AIDS news, research developments and also to share your opinion about current events.”
As social media becomes more commonplace as an appropriate way to reach potential study participants, best practices for including social media recruitment in protocol development are being explored. For example, Dr. del Rio was part of a team that recently published a paper about their experience with the social media site Facebook for recruitment of study participants. The comparability of men who have sex with men recruited from venue-based, time-space sampling and Facebook: a cohort study showed that venue-based, time spacing (VBTS) and Facebook recruitment methods yielded similar samples of men who have sex with men in terms of HIV-testing patterns, and prevalence of HIV/STI, with no differences in study retention. Most Facebook-recruited men also attended venues where VTBS recruitment was conducted. Surveillance and research studies may recruit via Facebook with little evidence of bias, relative to VBTS. The forward thinking of Dr. del Rio and his colleagues in this study is advancing research methods, but Dr. del Rio’s engagement with the public via social media does not stop there.
“Dr. del Rio has always been an effective communicator and has an inherent ability to develop a solid rapport with his patients and the study participants he monitors,” said his colleague, Dr. Jeffrey Lennox “His use of social media outlets like Twitter is yet another example of how he values connecting with the HIV/AIDS community and potential study participants.”
Having been a part of some of the ACTG Network’s largest naive (never been treated) studies such as A5202, A5257 and A5164, Dr. del Rio has often been one of the first people to discuss treatment options with patients and study participants following an HIV diagnosis. He is extremely pleased that we have come so far through extensive research that the lives of those with HIV have been transformed into near normal lives. To share this type of viewpoint and to provide insights on the future of research, Dr. del Rio often uses Twitter to disseminate his thoughts. It also helps to keep him up-to-date on what younger generations of researchers are exploring as well as helping him to connect with those individuals.
“We need to develop the next generation of HIV investigators. Many of us have been at this for years and are getting closer and closer to retirement,” said Dr. del Rio. “Ensuring sustainability and a continuing pipeline of investigators is critical. Utilizing social media sites like Twitter is one small way to help to contribute to achieving this goal.”
In the near future, Dr. del Rio will be working on a study sponsored by the HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN). This large-scale study will evaluate a monoclonal antibody for HIV prevention (HVTN 703/HPTN081) and he is hoping to use Twitter and other social media platforms to help recruit, enroll and retain study participants. He also plans to continue to use Twitter to help share study information and to keep the lines of communication open between clinicians, young researchers and study participants. Additionally, he hopes to incorporate social media recruitment as part of protocol development for future ACTG Network Cure studies.