Due to limited familiarity with providing antiretroviral medication, many participants were hesitant to initiate PrEP.
In the country of Belgium, the provision of PrEP therapy is currently mostly centralized within specialized HIV clinics. In order to help scale up the delivery of PrEP and to reach underserved populations, it is important to engage family physicians due to their broad range of person-centered healthcare.
Recently, investigators from the Institute of Tropical Medicine of Belgium, in collaboration with the University of Antwerp, set out to understand family physicians’ perceptions of their role in providing PrEP therapy.
Data from the study was presented at the 11th International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Science.
For the study, the team of investigators initiated online discussion groups of family physicians. In total, there were 81 participants between November and January of 2021.
The participants also completed an online questionnaire which assessed socio-demographics and experience with sexual health.
Findings from the study showed that the majority of the respondents had little PrEp-related knowledge and exposure through their practice. However, it was observed that they were interested in receiving more information on the therapy.
Although the physicians agreed that identifying and referring high-risk patients was important, they disagreed about their perceptions of how to operationalize that role.
Additionally, most participants described a lack of clinical guidelines, absence of a formal referral mechanism, and perceived discomfort in proactively conducting sexual behavior risk assessments as main barriers to identify and refer clients for PrEP.
“Despite limited PrEP experience, Belgian FPs in our study clearly saw a role for them in linking clients to PrEP and in ensuring good-quality follow-up, particularly for clients not reached by specialized HIV clinics,” the authors wrote. “Providing additional training and creating FP-specialist collaborations were suggested to increase FPs' engagement.”