How best to obtain valid, verifiable data online from male couples? Lessons learned from an eHealth HIV prevention intervention for HIV-negative male couples Article

Mitchell, J, Lee, JY, Stephenson, R. (2016). How best to obtain valid, verifiable data online from male couples? Lessons learned from an eHealth HIV prevention intervention for HIV-negative male couples . 2(2), 10.2196/publichealth.6392

cited authors

  • Mitchell, J; Lee, JY; Stephenson, R



  • Background: As interest increases in the development of eHealth human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-preventive interventions for gay male couples, Web-based methods must also be developed to help increase the likelihood that couples enrolled and data collected from them represent true unique dyads. Methods to recruit and collect reliable and valid data from both members of a couple are lacking, yet are crucial for uptake of novel sexual health and HIV-prevention eHealth interventions. Methods to describe best practices to recruit male couples using targeted advertisements on Facebook are also lacking in the literature, yet could also help in this uptake. Objective: The objective of our study was to describe challenges and lessons learned from experiences from two phases (developmental phase and online randomized controlled trial [RCT]) of an eHealth HIV-prevention intervention for concordant HIV-negative male couples in terms of (1) recruiting male couples using targeted advertisements on Facebook, (2) validating that data came from two partners of the couple, and (3) verifying that the two partners of the couple are in a relationship with each other. Methods: The developmental phase refined the intervention via in-person focus groups, whereas the pilot-testing phase included an online RCT. For both phases, couples were recruited via targeted Facebook advertisements. Advertisements directed men to a study webpage and screener; once eligible, participants provided consent electronically. A partner referral system was embedded in the consenting process to recruit the relationship partner of the participant. Both men of the couple had to meet all eligibility criteria-individually and as a couple-before they could enroll in the study. Verification of couples' relationships was assessed via the concurrence of predetermined screener items from both partners, done manually in the developmental phase and electronically in the pilot-testing phase. A system of decision rules was developed to assess the validity that data came from two unique partners of a couple. Results: Several important lessons were learned from these experiences, resulting in recommendations for future eHealth studies involving male couples. Use of certain “interests” and types of images (eg, shirtless) in targeted Facebook advertisements should be avoided or used sparingly because these interests and types of images may generate adverse reactions from a broader audience. Development of a systematic approach with predetermined criteria and parameters to verify male couples' relationships is strongly recommended. Further, researchers are encouraged to develop a system of decision rules to detect and handle suspicious data (eg, suspicious email addresses/names, multiple entries, same IP address used in multiple entries) to help validate the legitimacy of male couples' relationships online. Conclusions: These lessons learned combined with recommendations for future studies aim to help enhance recruitment efforts and the validity and reliability of collecting dyadic data from male couples for novel eHealth HIV-preventive interventions.

publication date

  • July 1, 2016

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


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