Development and Implementation of a Model to Improve Identification of Patients Infected with HIV Using Diagnostic Rapid Testing in the Emergency Department


Contact for correspondence and reprints: Jason S. Haukoos, MD, MSc (Email:


Objectives Infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) continues to expand in nontraditional risk groups, and the prevalence of undiagnosed infection remains relatively high in the patient populations of urban emergency departments (EDs). Unfortunately, HIV testing in this setting remains uncommon. The objectives of this study were 1) to develop a physician-based diagnostic rapid HIV testing model, 2) to implement this model in a high-volume urban ED, and 3) to prospectively characterize the patients who were targeted by physicians for testing and determine the proportions who completed rapid HIV counseling, testing, and referral; tested positive for HIV infection; and were successfully linked into medical and preventative care.

Methods An interdisciplinary group of investigators developed a model for performing physician-based diagnostic rapid HIV testing in the ED. This model was then evaluated using a prospective cohort study design. Emergency physicians identified patients at risk for undiagnosed HIV infection using clinical judgment and consensus guidelines. Testing was performed by the hospital's central laboratory, and clinical social workers performed pretest and posttest counseling and provided appropriate medical and preventative care referrals, as defined by the model.

Results Over the 30-month study period, 105,856 patients were evaluated in the ED. Of these, 681 (0.64%; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.60% to 0.69%) were identified by physicians and completed rapid HIV counseling, testing, and referral. Of the 681 patients, 15 (2.2%; 95% CI = 1.2% to 3.6%) patients tested positive for HIV infection and 12 (80%; 95% CI = 52% to 96%) were successfully linked into care.

Conclusions A physician-based diagnostic HIV testing model was developed, successfully implemented, and sustained in a high-volume, urban ED setting. While the use of this model successfully identified patients with undiagnosed HIV infection in the ED, the overall level of testing remained low. Innovative testing programs, such as nontargeted screening, more specific targeted screening, or alternative hybrid methods, are needed to more effectively identify undiagnosed HIV infection in the ED patient population.