We used social media to increase hepatitis C testing for baby boomers
Partner: University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
Of the estimated 3.4 million Americans with chronic hepatitis C, 75% are baby boomers.
Hepatitis C can cause liver cancer, liver failure, and death, but treatments are very effective with early detection.
Since many baby boomers with hepatitis C are unaware of their infection, innovative programs are needed to increase testing.
Our mixed-methods study demonstrated the potential of a social media platform to promote hep C testing to baby boomers.
Test4HepC: Promoting Hepatitis C Testing to Baby Boomers Using Social Media.
Plant A, Snow EG, Montoya JA, Young S, Javanbakht M, Klausner JD. Health Promotion Practice. 2020;21(5):780-790.
Using Social Media to Promote Hepatitis C Testing to Baby Boomers.
Snow E, Plant A, Montoya J, Young S, Kimble M, Gordon K, Castrejón M, Klausner K. Presented at: American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting; November 4-8, 2017; Atlanta, Georgia.
Leveraging Advances in Hepatitis C Treatment
The majority of people with hepatitis C will eventually develop a chronic infection that can lead to liver cancer or cirrhosis. Hepatitis C-associated liver failure is the most common reason for liver transplantation. Several highly effective medications have been developed. However, as many as 85% of people remain unaware of their hepatitis C infection and thus cannot benefit from these treatments.
Baby boomers (those born between 1945 and 1965) are disproportionately affected by hepatitis C. Studies have found that overall, baby boomers have low hepatitis C knowledge, low risk perception, and low rates of testing.
In collaboration with the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, Sentient Research created a new program designed to increase hepatitis C testing for baby boomers.
Pilot Program Development
Test4HepC was funded through a grant from Gilead Sciences and launched in 2015. The Test4HepC.org website included a testing site locator where users could enter their zip code to find free or low-cost local testing locations, and promoted various ways to test, including free testing at commercial laboratory locations paid for by the program.
Facebook was the only method used to promote the program. Facebook ads specifically targeting baby boomers living in Los Angeles County directed people to the website. In addition, we created a Test4HepC Facebook page where we posted information about the program. Ads and posts were run in several waves over 16 months, with varied images and messaging about hepatitis C risk among baby boomers, negative outcomes of untreated hepatitis C, and the availability of free and low-cost testing.
Older adults are very active on Facebook. Our mixed-methods study demonstrated the potential of using social media to promote important health behaviors to baby boomers.
After the first 16 months of implementing Test4HepC, Sentient Research conducted a mixed-methods evaluation of the program that included website and Facebook metrics, free laboratory testing usage data collected by program staff, an online survey of program users, and qualitative interviews with program users.
Website/Facebook Metrics and Free Laboratory Testing. Test4HepC Facebook advertisements reached 204,657 individuals and resulted in 8,547 clicks to the website. There were 6,919 unique Test4HepC.org visitors. Of these, 2,020 (29%) used the testing site locator. Forty-eight people accessed free laboratory testing through the testing site locator and one of these results was positive.
Online Survey Results. Out of 302 baby boomers who participated in the evaluation survey, most found Test4HepC.org to be very useful (60%) or somewhat useful (23%) and (71%) of participants used the testing site locator. Seventy-four (25%) tested for hepatitis C after using the website; two participants reported testing positive (3%); which is similar to the estimated positivity rate among baby boomers nationally.
Qualitative Interviews. Twenty individuals participated in a qualitative telephone interview. These interviews indicated that Test4HepC increased baby boomers’ hepatitis C risk perception and encouraged testing. Participants also offered valuable feedback on program refinements.
Our mixed methods evaluation of Test4HepC demonstrated the potential of using social media to promote hepatitis C testing to baby boomers, provided useful information about which elements of the program worked best, and revealed feasible ways to improve the program. To our knowledge, this is the first evaluation of a program that used social media to encourage baby boomers to test for hepatitis C.