CTSA Program Researcher Studies Barriers to HIV Prevention

Rupa R. Patel, M.D., M.P.H

Rupa Patel, M.D., M.P.H. (Washington University in St. Louis Photo)

Through an intervention called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), people at risk for HIV can take medicine daily to decrease their chances of becoming infected. But many people who could benefit from PrEP do not receive a prescription.

At Washington University in St. Louis, an NCATS Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) Program hub, Rupa R. Patel, M.D., M.P.H., is studying the barriers that keep young adults from obtaining PrEP. In 2015, while establishing a new clinical program, Patel became a CTSA Program KL2 Mentored Clinical Research Scholar.

Patel initiated a research study of individuals who visit the clinic to discuss PrEP. She collects data such as whether these individuals have health insurance or risk factors for acquiring HIV, and she records whether they actually start taking the medication.

Patel has used insights gained from the research and from conversations with patients to provide a better clinic experience. She offers a program that offers patients a clinic visit, laboratory tests, PrEP prescription, and assistance with insurance or medication paperwork in a single day.

Through a 2018 study, Patel learned that two-thirds of her clinic’s patients had primary care doctors but were not comfortable asking their doctors for PrEP or were told that those physicians did not offer PrEP care. She concluded that primary care doctors could benefit from more education about what PrEP is and how to deliver it.

Patel has shared her findings with a broad range of local and international public health officials. She also serves on the World Health Organization’s technical advisory group for PrEP implementation. She has been given opportunities to assist with developing PrEP implementation plans with stakeholders in several countries in Africa and Asia.

“The KL2 changed my life,” Patel said. “It provided the structured mentorship and the time to research, write and revise, and contemplate and reflect about my work.”

Posted September 2018