Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Tomorrow is National HIV Testing Day

By John T. Carlo, MD, MS
Dallas Surgeon
Chair, Texas Medical Association Council on Science and Public Health

June 27 is recognized as National Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Testing Day, and this year it is an especially great day to reflect on changes that have occurred recently around HIV testing. First, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) this year changed its recommendation to “grade A” — that clinicians should screen all adolescents and adults aged 15 to 65 years for HIV. No longer is a risk assessment part of how or when to consider HIV testing, nor should there be any question whether insurance will pay for HIV screening, thanks to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requiring insurance plans to cover all USPHSTF grade A and B recommendations.

So on June 27 and every day, physicians should offer HIV testing to any patient seen in their office. Physicians no longer need to ask uncomfortable questions about risk factors, and patients do not need to provide a reason why they desire to have an HIV test to receive one. HIV screening is cost-effective, and the testing technologies are highly accurate and easy to use. Testing platforms exist that can test hundreds of samples at once, have results available in just over 45 minutes, and cost roughly $7 per test. Other testing methods are so safe and easy to use that they are used in nonmedical environments such as nightclubs, bars, and fairs — many completed without even the need to obtain a drop of blood. Newly approved home HIV test kits are now available at the local pharmacy or supermarket.

The technology enabling fast, accurate, and inexpensive HIV testing is truly remarkable considering how quickly this innovation has occurred. Virtually no other medical test, except possibility a pregnancy test, is as safe and accurate. So why are more people not being tested? In Texas, just 40 percent of the indicated population has received a test, and thousands of individuals in Texas living with HIV continue not to find out they are infected until very late in their illness course. Clearly, more needs to be done. National HIV Testing Day is a day when we should reflect on how much has changed and be energized knowing that with today’s amazing testing innovations, solid evidence on the effectiveness of universal HIV opt-out screening, and the new USPSTF recommendation ensuring insurance coverage, we are now more than ever ready to ensure all Texans aged 15 to 65 receive an HIV test.

Dr. Carlo serves as the chief executive officer for AIDS Arms, Inc., the largest community-based HIV/AIDS service organization in North Texas. 

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