Statistics show that before 2006, hospital emergency rooms tested patients for HIV at a rate of just 3.2 per 1,000 visits -- or 0.32 percent. In the two years since, there's been slight improvement, with an estimated 50 to 100 out of 5,000 emergency rooms nationwide routinely testing for HIV, according to Dr. Richard Rothman, of the Johns Hopkins University Department of Emergency Medicine.
A lack of testing occurs in other settings as well, such as correctional facilities and Veterans Administration hospitals. Other research presented at the conference found that just 36 percent of insured individuals seeking treatment for sexually transmitted diseases -- a high-risk group -- were tested for HIV.
And under-testing, of course, means that people who are infected don't start their treatment until later. One study found that 40 percent of patients newly diagnosed with HIV were "late testers," meaning they had AIDS diagnosed within one year of their test.
"Seventy-five percent of those patients had had health-care visits and the most frequent site of visits was the emergency department. There were many missed opportunities," Rothman said.
Despite legislative, medical and social barriers, there have been some successes. They include a voluntary rapid HIV testing program in New York City jails that increased testing from 6,500 to 25,000 inmates between 2004 and 2006. And a Chicago hospital added two health educators to its emergency room, offering rapid testing to patients admitted for medical services. Over 15 months, nearly 2,000 patients were tested, and 15 percent were confirmed HIV-positive. They were set up with care, according to a conference news release.
"I tested positive for HIV 20 years ago and, as a result, have had the opportunity to live a better life and a longer life," said Deadra Lawson Smith, a member of the Living Quilt Project and a comm
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