BACKGROUND: Many HIV-infected persons learn about their diagnosis years after initial infection. The extent to which missed opportunities for HIV testing occur in medical evaluations prior to one’s HIV diagnosis is not known.
DESIGN: We performed a 10-year retrospective chart review of patients seen at an HIV intake clinic between January 1994 and June 2001 who 1) tested positive for HIV during the 12 months prior to their presentation at the intake clinic and 2) had at least one encounter recorded in the medical record prior to their HIV-positive status. Data collection included demographics, clinical presentation, and whether HIV testing was recommended to the patient or addressed in any way in the clinical note. Prespecified triggers for physicians to recommend HIV testing, such as specific patient characteristics, symptoms, and physical findings, were recorded for each visit. Multivariable logistic regression was used to identify factors associated with missed opportunities for discussion of HIV testing. Generalized estimating equations were used to account for multiple visits per subject.
RESULTS: Among the 221 patients meeting eligibility criteria, all had triggers for HIV testing found in an encounter note. Triggers were found in 50% (1,702/3,424) of these 221 patients’ medical visits. The median number of visits per patient prior to HIV diagnosis to this single institution was 5; 40% of these visits were to either the emergency department or urgent care clinic. HIV was addressed in 27% of visits in which triggers were identified. The multivariable regression model indicated that patients were more likely to have testing addressed in urgent care clinic (39%), sexually transmitted disease clinic (78%), primary care clinics (32%), and during hospitalization (47%), compared to the emergency department (11%), obstetrics/gynecology (9%), and other specialty clinics (10%) (P<.0001). More recent clinical visits (1997–2001) were more likely to have HIV addressed than earlier visits (P<.0001). Women were offered testing less often than men (P=.07).
CONCLUSIONS: Missed opportunities for addressing HIV testing remain unacceptably high when patients seek medical care in the period before their HIV diagnosis. Despite improvement in recent years, variation by site of care remained important. In particular, the emergency department merits consideration for increased resource commitment to facilitate HIV testing. In order to detect HIV infection prior to advanced immunosuppression, clinicians must become more aware of clinical triggers that suggest a patient’s increased risk for this infection and lower the threshold at which HIV testing is recommended.