The University of Illinois Hospital will soon begin routine HIV testing of patients seen in the emergency department. Patients between 13 and 64 years old who get blood drawn for any reason during their visit will be screened for HIV — unless they ask for the test not to be performed.
“By switching to opt-out testing, we will increase the number of people who know their HIV status and prevent new people from becoming infected,” says Dr. Janet Lin, associate professor of emergency medicine.
Lin leads the initiative at UI Health, called Project HEAL, which is supported by a grant from the Gilead Foundation.
“Right now, patients visiting the emergency department must ask to be screened for HIV, or are tested based on risk factors that are picked up during the patient interview, like being an intravenous drug user,” Lin said. “Offering HIV testing to only those who report risk factors and ask for testing means we can be missing positive diagnoses.”
About one-fifth of the 1.1 million Americans who have HIV do not know they are infected with the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Chicago Department of Public Health estimates 4,300 people in Chicago are unaware that they are HIV positive.
Project HEAL aims to increase routine HIV testing, educate patients and providers about HIV/AIDS, and connect HIV-positive patients to resources. Lin estimates that 15,000 people will be screened for HIV at UI Hospital during the first year of Project HEAL.
“Knowing your HIV status is a powerful tool for preventing the inadvertent spread of the virus to others,” Lin said. It also allows patients to begin treatment early, when treatment has the greatest chance of preventing the disease from progressing.
Patients who test positive will be contacted by a specially-trained healthcare advocate who will help connect those patients with healthcare providers and centers where the patient can receive care and psychosocial support.
Signage in the UI Hospital emergency department will alert patients to the new HIV testing policy, and updated consent-to-treat forms will inform patients of how they can opt-out of being screened.