Rapid HIV tests lead to more people getting tested and receiving their results, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs presented at the 16th International AIDS Conference.
Both traditional testing and newer rapid tests were likely to result in higher screening rates for HIV, according to the study. But patients who received rapid testing were much more likely to learn their results.
HIV testing is cost-effective, but testing rates for at-risk populations in the U.S. are low. “Even people who are in care and are seeing their doctor on a regular basis, and are identified as being at risk for HIV infection, are not being tested at nearly the rate that they should be,” said Dr. Henry Anaya, who presented the study.
Testing is important because people tend to reduce their risk behaviors when they know their HIV status, Anaya said.
Patients waiting for an appointment at VA primary/urgent care clinics in Los Angeles were randomly split into three testing groups. The patients were all between 18 and 65 years of age and were unaware of their HIV status. None had been tested in the past year.
The first group of patients was prompted to ask their doctor for an HIV test during their appointment; the second group was referred to a nurse for traditional HIV testing; and the third group was also referred to a nurse but these patients received the rapid HIV test.
Traditional HIV testing involves two appointments — one for testing, and another some days later, to receive the results and counseling. Rapid tests involve an oral swab or a finger stick and results can be available in as little as 20 minutes.
Forty-one percent of the patients told to ask their physician for a test actually did, and 41 percent of those tested received their results. Double the patients who were referred to a nurse for testing actually did take the HIV test. Eighty-four percent of those referred for traditional testing received it, as did 93 percent of those in the rapid test group.
But many more patients in the rapid test group actually received their results -- 90 percent compared to 52 percent for those who had to return to get their results and counseling.
“The magnitude and direction of these results surprised even us,” Anaya said.
The results show that referring patients for testing is effective in both cases, but rapid testing resulted in nearly double the patients ultimately learning their HIV status.
The testing project is currently being used in an outreach effort directed at homeless veterans with the Los Angeles County, and the hope is for it to be expanded nationally across the Department of Veterans Affairs, Anaya said.