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Validity of Behavioral Measures as Proxies for HIV-Related Outcomes

Zimmerman, Rick S. PhD*; Morisky, Donald E. PhD; Harrison, Lana PhD; Mark, Hayley D. PhD, MPH, RN§

JAIDS Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes: August 15th, 2014 - Volume 66 - Issue - p S285–S292
doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000000241
Supplement Article

Abstract: Over the last 30 years, expectations for the quality, validity, and objectivity of the outcome measures used to assess the impact of behavior change interventions related to HIV have steadily increased. At this point (mid-2014 at this writing), biologic evidence or biomarkers of the incidence of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections in a target population is clearly preferable to self-reports of behavior. This kind of evidence is, however, much more expensive to collect than participants' reports of behavior change (eg, increased condom use, reduced substance use or abstinence from substance use, and high levels of medication adherence). In addition, although potentially less subject to reporting bias, biomarkers and biologic outcomes have their own flaws. In this article, we review the literature on the validity of self-reports of outcomes most relevant to HIV behavior change interventions, sexual behavior (ever having had sex and condom use), substance use, and medication adherence. We note the extent to which they may be adequate outcome measures without biologic data, and the conditions under which they may be most likely to be sufficient. We also argue, like many others, that where possible, both self-report and biologic measures should be collected.

*College of Nursing, University of Missouri St. Louis, St. Louis, MO;

University of California Los Angeles Fielding School of Public Health, Los Angeles, CA;

Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, Center for Drug and Alcohol Studies, University of Delaware Newark, DE, and

§Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, Department of Community and Public Health, Baltimore, MD.

Correspondence to: Rick S. Zimmerman, PhD, College of Nursing, University of Missouri St. Louis, 220 NAB, 1 University Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63121-4400 (e-mail:

The authors have no funding or conflicts of interest to disclose.

The preparation of this article was facilitated by the United States Agency for International Development Cooperative Agreement #AID-OAA-A-12-00,058 to the Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Center for Communication Programs.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial No Derivative 3.0 License, which permits downloading and sharing the work provided it is properly cited. The work cannot be changed in any way or used commercially.

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With significant funding for studies of HIV behavior change interventions over the past 30 years, expectations for data quality have risen. In 1985, a study of increased knowledge about HIV might receive funding and was certainly publishable, but by the 1990s self-reports of behavior (eg, condom use, frequency of unprotected sex) were minimum endpoints required of an intervention study. Also, in the 1990s, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH, one of the primary institutes at NIH funding HIV prevention research) made a conscious decision to fund a large number of prevention trials with self-reported behavior change as the primary outcome rather than a small number of trials using more expensive biologic outcomes. Despite this history, as this is being written (in 2014), biologic endpoints such as the incidence of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the community are now often expected as indicators of the impact of an intervention for HIV prevention (including secondary prevention in those living with HIV). This article summarizes current knowledge on the validity of self-reporting of behaviors, particularly those related to outcomes examined in studies of HIV behavior change interventions, such as sexual behaviors, substance use, and medication adherence. Thus, our aim was to provide a view of the extent to which and the conditions under which self-reports may be reasonable proxies for biologic evidence or biomarkers of HIV-related outcomes or valid indicators of those outcomes. Specifically, to better ascertain the reliability of reports of sexual behaviors, we review key studies that have conducted assessments in the following areas: (1) reports of ever having had sex, primarily examining the consistency of those reports over time, including reports at 1 time of having had sex and reports at a later time of never having had sex; (2) the validity of self-reports of condom use and protected/unprotected sex assessed using other self-report measures or biologic markers, and (3) ways to improve the validity of reporting of sexual behavior. We also review studies of self-reports of substance abuse and medication adherence.

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Sexual Behavior

Unprotected sex as a vector for STIs is a major risk factor of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Traditionally, measurement of unprotected sex has relied on data collected through self-reporting. Unlike substance use, where biologic testing (urinalysis, hair analysis, and so on) is the “gold standard” to which self-reports can be compared, there is no readily available gold standard for assessing whether or how frequently sexual behaviors (eg, unprotected anal or vaginal intercourse) have occurred, although some biologic measures are available and continue to be tested.1,2

One way that many researchers have attempted to assess the validity of reports of “ever having had sex” is to determine whether those who report “ever having had sex” at 1 time point indicate at a later time point that they have never had sex. Table 1 presents data from all studies we found, showing the proportion of individuals who indicated that they had had sex at 1 time point and later contradicted those reports and said that they had never had sex.3–7 Percentages ranged from about 4% (for a 2-week interval between measurements)7 to about 10%–11% for a 1-year interval for US adolescents3–5 and up to 16% for a 4- to 6-month time interval for South African adolescents.6 Although some of this self-contradiction may be due to respondents reconsidering whether or not the event constituted sex or sexual intercourse (ie, reclassification of the event as something other than sex), these percentages might also be considered a reasonable approximation of misreporting or lack of validity of responses about ever having had sex. Indeed, discrepancies in longitudinal reports, especially by adolescents, on a variety of variables that are quite consistent over time (eg, race, age, gender, grade in school, number of siblings) typically range from 3% to 5%, suggesting that reports of ever having had sex are only somewhat more discrepant than reports for these much less sensitive variables. This suggests that at least a portion of the inconsistency observed over time is due to lack of attention to detail on surveys generally, rather than a calculated attempt to keep a secret from or not look bad to the researcher.



Although other self-reports such as self-reported honesty and comparison of multiple measures of condom use to each other have often been used to assess the validity of self-reports of condom use,8 biologic outcomes (eg, positive results on STI tests) and biomarkers are increasingly being used for this purpose.1,2 As calls have grown for incorporating biomarkers into studies of sexual risk behavior, an accurate measurement of semen exposure has become an urgent priority for investigators seeking to measure the effect of interventions to reduce sexual exposure to HIV and STIs through various kinds of behavior change, including reducing the number and/or concurrency of partners and increasing male or female condom use.

Currently, biomarkers for unprotected sex are limited to markers of semen exposure in women. There are 2 broad categories of biomarkers: markers of seminal plasma, such as prostate-specific antigen (PSA),1 and markers of spermatozoa, such as Y-chromosome DNA (Yc DNA).2,9 Because PSA, a protein that occurs at high concentrations in seminal fluid, is expressed independently of spermatozoa, it can be a measure of disease risk even in men with low or no sperm count. Although PSA, which is the most frequently used marker for semen, can be found in women in very small amounts in various tissues and body fluids, it is not usually found in vaginal secretions. Yc DNA is contained in sperm cells, and fragments from spermatozoa can be detected in vaginal fluid. Polymerase chain reaction and fluorescent in situ hybridization are assays used to detect Y-bearing male cells. Both methods test vaginal secretions collected by swab.

PSA and Yc DNA differ in their sensitivities, rates of decay, and cost. In general, PSA is detected more often than Yc DNA immediately after exposure to large amounts of semen, but Yc DNA has a longer time to decay. Jamshidi et al recently compared sensitivities and rates of decay of PSA and Yc DNA in vaginal fluid specimens. Sensitivities for PCA and Yc DNA immediately after women were inoculated with large volumes of semen (1000 mL) were 0.96 and 0.72, respectively.10 At 24 hours after exposure, the sensitivity of being PCA-positive or Yc DNA–positive had dropped to 0.21 for PCA and to 0.49 for Yc DNA, and at 48 hours, to 0.07 and 0.21, respectively. Both measures are very limited in their ability to detect exposures to tiny amounts of semen and thus may not be reliable indicators of condom failure. Finally, the assay for Yc DNA is more expensive than that for PSA (approximately $20–$30 for Yc DNA).11

Table 2 presents data from all studies, which we could find dating back as far as the 1960s, that have used positive STI tests or biomarkers to assess the accuracy of reporting consistent condom use.12–20 An early test (microscopic search for sperm)12 and positive STI tests (either at the time of the self-report or at a follow-up visit after treatment of STIs)13,14 have shown self-reports about consistent condom use seem to be problematic (ie, associated with positive biologic test results) from 10% to 19% of the time. The 6 published studies using PSA or Yc DNA showed discrepant results between 13% and 56% of the time, with an average of 38% of individuals with discrepancies.15–20



Biologic indicators to assess sexual behavior outcomes of HIV behavior change interventions, while they may be desirable measures, are significantly more expensive and intrusive than self-report methods and thus are not always feasible to collect. A variety of methods have been used by researchers over the past several decades to improve the quality of self-reports about sensitive behaviors such as ever having had sex and condom use. Probably, the best known method and the one that has had the most significant impact on the validity of self-reports of sensitive behaviors is the use of audio computer-assisted self-interview (ACASI).21,22 Individuals are given a laptop and headphones where they can see and hear questions and record their responses. Because this method affords greater privacy than face-to-face interviews and even self-administered questionnaires, where staff hover near individuals completing their surveys, ACASI has been found to yield prevalences of the most sensitive behaviors that can be as high as 3 times those of prevalences reported using self-administered surveys. Furthermore, the method yields prevalences for a wide variety of behaviors that are 25%–50% higher than those found using other data collection methods.21 Greater reporting of sensitive behaviors with ACASI than with other data collection methods has generally held for many kinds of studies, with 2 occasional (and not consistent) exceptions: some uses of ACASI in low-income countries did not find that this improved the quality of self-reports, and no differences were found between ACASI and other methods in a few studies where statistical power was inadequate to detect any differences.

As we have noted elsewhere,23 a wide variety of other methodological innovations have been developed to improve the validity of self-reports of sensitive behaviors. Two others that are potentially important include the appropriate choice of reporting intervals for self-reports of behavior (ie, condom use over the last week, month, or year)8 and the use of daily diaries.24 In general, “moderate” reporting periods (3–6 months for condom use, for example, for college students) seem to yield the best data because they allow long enough recording to result in sufficient variance a behavior to detect effects and short enough to enable respondents to remember the behavior reasonably well. Daily (or some other short reporting period, eg, weekly) diaries generally yield greater frequency of a variety of sensitive behaviors, and thus probably produce more valid results. However, respondent burden and cost can both be much greater than when retrospective reports are collected over longer time intervals, and diaries require that the frequency of the behavior is great enough to measure in this fine-grained way.

In sum, research that has assessed the validity of self-reports of sexual behavior indicates that reports of ever having had sex show relatively low rates of inconsistency (estimates suggest they may be accurately 85%–90% of the time), using relatively weak assessment methods that simply determine whether individuals contradict these reports over a period. Reports of condom use, when assessed in conjunction either with an early biomarker or with STI tests, have been found to be consistent with STI test results about 80%–90% of the time. Comparison of reports of condom use with more “state-of-the-art” biomarkers (PSA and Yc DNA) have found that an average of about 38% of respondents overreport consistent condom use (ie, report consistent condom use, although the biomarker suggests at least some intercourse experience(s) during which a condom was not used). Thus, among the 3 results reported here, consistency in reporting ever having sex, self-reports of condom use when compared with STI test results or an early biomarker, and self-reports of condom use when compared with more recently developed biomarkers, this last result is the outlier. Therefore, we tentatively conclude that self-reports of condom use seem to be quite problematic. However, more work may be necessary on the accuracy of these biomarkers to measure unprotected intercourse. Indeed, although the tests may lack specificity because individuals inaccurately report consistent condom use (eg, in 1 initial test of the Yc DNA biomarker, 11% of individuals who had agreed to use condoms consistently for sex with their partner for the duration of the study had positive test results),15 some of the error may be due to the test rather than to the person not being honest or accurate in self-reports. There is always more methodological work to be performed, and new potential methods that integrate more and more technology may yield increasingly valid self-reports of sensitive behaviors, including sexual behaviors related to HIV behavior change outcomes.

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Substance Use

In addition to a variety of sexual behaviors such as early adolescents' reports of ever having had sex and individuals' reports of having engaged in sexual activity for pay that do not receive approval by society or parents, alcohol (for those younger than 21) and illicit drug use are viewed negatively by society or at least portions of it. Therefore, people may deliberately respond untruthfully to survey questions about their use. As a result, there have been continuing efforts to refine testing for substance abuse. For many years, law enforcement officials used crude forms of drug testing, such as slurred speech tests to check for alcohol intoxication, and looking for pupil constriction or needle marks to assess narcotic use. Walking in a straight line, standing on 1 foot, or reciting the alphabet backwards is still used routinely in checks for alcohol intoxication. The first biochemical test for drugs was the Breathalyzer, created in the 1950s.25 The military used the first wide-scale drug testing with urine testing of returning Vietnam veterans in the 1970s. The Drug Use Forecasting study of arrestees in major US cities, developed by the National Institute of Justice in the late 1980s, was the first large study to use urinalysis.26 In 1986, the creation of the “Drug-Free Federal Workforce” paved the way for widespread drug testing of both federal and private employees. A monograph on the validity of self-reports of substance use, published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse in 1997, concluded that results for adolescents and the general population of adults were generally valid, but results were more problematic for high-risk and treatment populations.27,28

Urine generally detects drug use in the past 1–3 days for most drugs but not necessarily the drug use in the past few hours (at a cost of between $10 and $50 per test or panel of tests). It is not appropriate for alcohol, which is quickly metabolized.29 Other tissues that can be tested for the presence of illicit drugs include sweat, hair, blood, and meconium from pregnant women. Blood offers a very narrow window of detectability but is preferred in medical settings with proper equipment to determine recent use and impairment. Hair testing generally detects drug use over the past 90 days. Sweat is usually collected during a period of several days to weeks by wearing a tamper-proof pad, although some new tests are being developed to detect recent use. Breath testing is available only for alcohol.29

Most research on the validity of self-reported drug use had been conducted with criminal justice and treatment populations who are much more likely to be heavily involved with drugs.30 However, a national study, known as the Validity Study, was conducted in 2000 and 2001 in conjunction with the National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), the US largest and oldest survey of drug use in the general population. This study collected urine and hair samples. The study limited respondents to those between the ages of 12 and 25, in the coterminous United States. All respondents were asked a series of questions about memory and confidentiality and were then asked a second set of questions about recent drug use. They were offered $25 each for urine and hair samples. Approximately 90% of those interviewed agreed to provide either a hair or urine specimen, and 81% provided both samples.31

The NSDUH has always been attentive to privacy and validity concerns. The study used self-reported answer sheets through 1998 and then introduced the audio ACASI method in 1999. The Validity Study was methodologically identical to the NSDUH, but a random half of the sample received a persuasion experiment designed to increase validity. The other half of the participants were asked a few questions about what they thought of the study. About 3800 urine tests and 2000 hair tests were conducted in this study. Hair and urine specimens were analyzed with screening and confirmation tests, with levels of detection for screening tests set to lower than normal levels to ensure that all presumptive positives would be tested by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry confirmation. Samples were screened and confirmed at actual metabolite levels.

The congruence between self-reported drug use and urine results was generally quite good, although it was dominated by self-reported nonusers who tested negative.31 Tobacco and marijuana self-reports had greater congruence with urinalyses than those for cocaine, amphetamines, and opiates. Specifically, for 7-day tobacco use, there were 8.8% (k = 0.65) false negatives in self-reports for those who tested positive by urinalysis (this was the proportion of those with positive urinalysis tests who said they had not smoked). For 30-day marijuana use, the proportion of false-negative self-reports was 3.2% (k = 0.48), but for 7-day and 3-day marijuana use, it was 4.5% (k = 0.59) and 5.2% (k = 0.59), respectively. It should also be pointed out that for 7-day and 3-day marijuana use, 3% and 1.5%, respectively reported use and tested negative. For cocaine and amphetamines (both substances for which there were very small numbers of “true” positives according to urinalysis), the proportions of false negatives were 0.8% (k = 0.28) and 0.07% (k = 0.10), respectively. There were overreporters for all the drugs, although underreporters generally outnumbered overreporters. Overreporting may be related to the fact that the drug tests were not sensitive enough or the time periods were not specific enough. There was little correspondence between hair and urine results and surprisingly few positive hair tests for any of these substances. Of course, very few respondents tested positive by hair or urine for any of the drugs—a fact of some note!

The Validity Study found discrepancies in both self-report and urine and hair test results that cannot be easily explained. Urine and hair testing technology are designed to err on the side of avoiding false positives, but there seemed to be many cases, particularly with tobacco and marijuana, where self-reported use patterns should have produced positive urine tests. The study concluded that the window of detectability for drugs and the cutoff levels used to assign positive status to a drug test should be considered guidelines at best. Hair testing is still not considered a valid and reliable way to screen for drug use in the community.32

Although the majority of respondents had little difficulty understanding the drug-related questions and felt very certain about the accuracy of their answers to these questions, they expressed much less faith in other people. Over half (58%) thought that most people would report using drugs less often than they did. Seventy-five percent said that they were not embarrassed by answering the questions, but only 59% felt that most people would feel the same way. Twelve percent were concerned about the confidentiality of their own answers, but more than one-quarter thought that most people would be very concerned that others might have access to their answers. Although 90% reported that they were completely truthful in answering the drug-related questions, only 16% thought most people would be completely truthful. The much higher percentages reported for “most people” make 1 wonder, if respondents were projecting their own feelings onto others.

Statistical models found self-reports of perceived privacy and truthfulness of survey responses, as well as religiosity, to be positively associated with validity (ie, consistency between self-reports and urinalysis results), although difficulty in understanding questions had a negative association with validity. Other predictors of consistency between self-reports and urinalysis were passive exposure and having drug-using friends.31 Both of these may actually have been indicators of passive contamination by marijuana smoked by others.

The Validity Study questionnaire repeated the drug questions at a later point in the same survey. Although there were no significant differences in the prevalence rates in responses to the 2 sets of questions, a surprising number of respondents gave inconsistent answers on the 2 sets. Because the second set was delivered after the persuasion experiment was given to half the respondents, it was hypothesized that the persuasion experiment would increase self-reporting rates. This was true even in logistic regression models. However, some respondents who received the persuasion experiment did change their answers about drug use in the second set of questions, from “use” to “no use.”31

The results from the Validity Study underscore the fact that despite assurances of confidentiality, underreporting of use of illicit drugs, especially those with significant legal consequences, continues to be an issue for research. Clearly, small proportions of respondents who have recently used a drug do not report that use. As noted above, however, some of these respondents may be testing positive because of passive exposure to the drug through friends.

Although it is important to use biologic tests to measure licit and illicit drug use, the tests have their limitations. Research is needed to improve the validity of biologic testing and to improve methods for asking about sensitive subjects. The Validity Study findings indicate that it may be useful to ask drug-related questions twice, perhaps varying the format. The persuasion experiment increased the accuracy of self-reported drug use, suggesting that it helps explaining individuals the necessity for accurate information about their drug use.

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Medication Adherence

There are a multitude of methods for measuring adherence, each with its own distinctive advantages and disadvantages.33 The simplest and most convenient way to measure this is through self-reports: the patient is asked, “Did you take your medication every day during the past 2 weeks?” The most likely response is “yes.” The assumption underlying self-report measures is that patients are honest in their reports and recall is perfect. The advantage of this method of assessment is that the process is convenient and inexpensive. However, patients are not always honest and recall is not always perfect. Also, a number of potential validity problems are associated with this method. Responses are personal and idiosyncratic, and thus may bear little relationship to “reality” as seen by others. More importantly, people may respond in such a manner as to please the person asking the question. This is often the case in the collection of data on condom use behavior among commercial sex workers.

A second way of measuring adherence is to count the pills in the container when the patient makes a follow-up visit. This assessment is also simple and cheap; it is based on the assumption that the difference between the number of pills ideally taken and the number of pills remaining in the container equal the number of pills taken. However, patients may forget (purposely) to bring the container with them or they may remove pills from the container before the visit. Kalichman et al34 examined the convergent validity of 2 self-report adherence measures administered by ACASI: (1) self-reported recall of missed doses (SR-recall) and (2) a single-item visual analog rating scale (VAS). Adherence was also monitored using unannounced phone-based pill counts that served as an objective benchmark. The VAS obtained adherence estimates that paralleled unannounced pill counts. In contrast, SR-recall of missed medications consistently overestimated adherence. The computer-administered VAS was less influenced by response biases than SR-recall of missed medication doses. Adherence self-efficacy has often been found to be a good predictor of adherence behavior.35

Documenting prescription refills is another method of assessing adherence. That is, pharmacy refills are correlated with self-reports to obtain a measure of criterion-related validity. However, people do not always get their medications refilled at the same pharmacy because of discounts offered by some pharmacies. A fourth method of measuring adherence involves the use of a computer chip inserted into the cap of the pill container. Every time the container is opened, the chip will stamp the date and time of the opening. This method is known as Medication Event Monitoring System (MEMS). The assumption behind MEMS is that every time the cap is opened, the patient takes a pill. This system is designed to provide insights into patterns of adherence. For example, if the medication is prescribed for 30 days and the patient opens the container 30 times, then there is perfect adherence. In a prospective cardiovascular study comparing MEMS cap with pill counts, MEMS cap results identified nonadherence 28% of the time compared with only 10% for pill counts.36 However, many patients put their pills into a weekly or monthly container or open the container many times to show their friends. This results in a skewed distribution resulting in both overreporting and underreporting. The “gold standard” for medication taking is a chemical marker inserted into the pill/tablet that can be tested in the urine or fingerstick. Unfortunately, this is invasive and obtrusive and inefficient in a clinical setting. So, the vast amount of literature indicate that self-reports are one of the most valid, efficient, and a simple method to assess adherence to medical recommendations.

Mosca et al37 conducted a 4-month prospective, nonrandomized, controlled study of elderly patients followed by a community pharmacist. Multicompartment compliance aids, for example, refrigerator magnets, stickers on mirrors, pill container for weekly/monthly use, and electronic reminder devices (ERDs) (timed alarms, watches, smart phones, and medication containers with chips) were used to assess self-reported adherence and clinical biomarkers of elderly patients followed in a community pharmacy. All received regular pharmacy counseling. Blood pressure, lipid profile, and blood sugar were assessed at baseline and monthly. The Morisky38 self-reported adherence scale was administered at baseline and at the end of the study. Significant improvements in the intervention group, but not in a control group, were found for blood glucose levels (P < 0.001), total cholesterol (P = 0.018), and systolic (P < 0.001) and diastolic (P = 0.012) blood pressure levels.

Measurement options and relationships observed between adherence measures and biologic outcomes in the HIV arena mirror those for adherence generally. Several articles have described the use of various methods of assessing antiretroviral adherence, from self-reports to pill counts to MEMS, including a recent variation of MEMS in which various pills are organized in a pill-box and instances of opening of the lids for the trays in the organizer send data to the researcher through phone or internet transmission.39 A recent publication has proposed “quality standards” for the various kinds of self-report measures used to assess adherence, based on best practices data for each.40 A recent meta-analysis that analyzed the correlations between adherence measures and various viral load (VL) measures41 found that correlations varied depending on the cutoff used for VL. When converted from correlations to an effect size d, the relationship between adherence results and VL was weakest with a cutoff of VL <400 (d = 0.35), moderate for VL <100 (d = 0.51), and moderately large when VL was measured as a continuous variable (d = 0.71). These results show some congruence between VL and adherence measures but also indicate a significant amount of discrepancy between them, especially for the less specific measures of VL. Another recent study has concluded that although single studies are often underpowered, researchers can achieve greater statistical power for comparisons of measurement methods by combining data sets across studies.42

A final method of assessing adherence is the use of interventions that both measure adherence and remind individuals to take their medication. However, personal reminders can require an extensive time investment from health care providers. Electronic reminders (automatically sent reminders without personal contact between the health care provider and patient) are therefore being increasingly used to improve adherence. These reminders are automatically sent to patients at the appropriate time without involvement of a health care provider. Examples include reminder messages automatically sent to a patient's mobile phone by a short message service (SMS), an ERD that provides patients with an audio and/or visual reminder at predetermined times, and text messages sent to patients' pagers to alert them of their medication.43 Interventions using reminders are primarily based on the theory of behavioral learning.44 According to this theory, behavior depends on stimuli or cues, either internal (thoughts) or external (environmental) cues, and nonadherent behavior can be modified after sufficient repetition of external stimuli or cues such as reminders.

An example of a simple intervention is a reminder to patients of their desired medication intake pattern. Reminders are especially useful for patients who are unintentionally nonadherent, that is, patients who are willing to take their medication but forget it or are inaccurate in their timing. Forgetfulness is commonly reported as a barrier to adherence by various patient populations. Although the percentages of patients reporting this barrier range from 22% to 73% across studies, forgetting to take a dose is the most frequently cited reason for nonadherence. A recent review looked at 10 studies of patients with HIV, hypertension, glaucoma, or asthma, which all used electronic reminders for patients and compared the adherence of those receiving SMS reminders with the adherence of patients using a beeper (type of ERD) as a reminder.45 For patients diagnosed with HIV, the review authors found a significant difference in favor of SMS reminders for short-term assessment. Stratified by the type of electronic reminder, this review shows that SMS reminders in particular, but ERD as well, can be effective strategies for improving patients' adherence in the short run. Interestingly, self-reports were found to be relatively accurate only for hypertension and glaucoma.

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In this article, we have reviewed current knowledge concerning the validity of self-reports of 3 kinds of behaviors related to HIV—sexual behaviors, substance use, and medication adherence. In general, by most assessment methods, reports of sexual behaviors seem valid, except when compared with the biomarkers PSA and Pc-DNA. It may be that the greater sensitivity of these new measures puts into question the validity of reports of consistent condom use, or the lack of congruence may raise questions about the validity of these biomarkers to assess self-reports of condom use. For general population samples and for relatively widely used substances (including tobacco use by 12- to 18-year-olds and marijuana use by adolescents and adults), self-reports of substance use seem to be quite valid. Reports on less prevalent drugs and those for which legal penalties are greater (eg, cocaine and amphetamines) and reports by treatment and high-risk samples seem to be significantly more problematic, with high levels of underreporting occasionally found as assessed by urinalysis. Measures of medication adherence have improved over the decades. Generally, self-reports are reasonably valid, although high-risk samples of people who may lose benefits or be expelled from a program if they are not taking their medications regularly may significantly underreport. Newer adherence measures (such as MEMS and EDR methods) seem to produce more valid data than most of the other reporting methods (eg, clinical self-report, pill counts, prescription refill data).

In conclusion, consistent with recent statements from experts in the field,46,47 we propose that self-reports and biologic measures (when available and shown to be highly specific and sensitive) should be jointly used for all 3 types of behaviors. We propose this strategy rather than the use of biologic endpoints only because there are some weaknesses and flaws in biologic measures as outcomes of a behavior change intervention. Indeed, there may be problems with the specificity of some biomarkers, that is, the biomarker may incorrectly suggest a poor behavioral outcome in general or for some people. Unfortunately, although collecting both self-report and biologic data is considered the best approach, so far we have seen very little development of specific methods for combining the data from those 2 types of methods.

Measurement of key outcomes for HIV behavior change interventions should use methods likely to yield the highest levels of validity of self-reports for all 3 types of behaviors. These include using a reporting period that is moderate in length for sexual behavior and substance use, using the best reporting methods available (ie, ACASI for all 3 behaviors and daily diaries under certain circumstances), and using continuing technological improvements such as video or phone-based evidence of medication taking or electronic pill caps to assess medication adherence.

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validity; measurement; behavior; biomarker; HIV

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