To better serve the needs of our communities, ACCESS recently launched Universal HIV testing to offer regular HIV screening to all patients at all ACCESS health center locations. Nancy Glick, M.D., ACCESS' HIV Clinical Director, explained the new process and shared why this is an important milestone.
Can you explain just what Universal HIV testing is?
It's actually very simple. Now, all ACCESS patients will be asked if they would like to have an HIV test as a routine part of their blood work. Patients may opt out, but all patients will be asked and encouraged to know their HIV status. Multiple studies show that people are more likely to accept HIV testing if it is a normal part of their medical care. Routine HIV testing allows everyone to get tested and know their status without feeling like they are being singled out.
Why is this so important?
According to the latest statistics from the CDC, among the estimated 1.2 million persons in this country living with HIV, 14 percent do not know they are infected. However, the number of people undiagnosed with HIV has been decreasing largely due to Universal HIV testing efforts. There are approximately 48,000 new cases each year. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also continues to document increases of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) for people between the ages of 13 and 24, which mirrors what we are seeing in our health centers.
Routine HIV testing has actually been recommended by the CDC since 2006, and it has been a Grade A recommendation by the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) since 2013. This is a covered service under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
What if an HIV screening comes back positive?
At ACCESS, we have been recognized both locally and nationally for our HIV treatment and support services. All HIV positive patients will be referred to one of ACCESS' five HIV hub sites for an initial consultation to support their primary care. We also have Infectious Disease specialists and trained linkage navigators that work closely with newly diagnosed patients to ensure that they are connected to the right resources and are given the support they need to help them decide how best to address their diagnosis and treatment options.
It's important to note that a diagnosis of HIV positive doesn't carry the stigma that it once did. While the initial diagnosis can be traumatic, there are new treatments that can help people live to near-normal life expectancy, and at ACCESS, we are committed to saving lives and ensuring that our HIV positive patients live long and productive lives.
For more information on ACCESS and its HIV services, call 1.886.882.2237 or visit our website at www.achn.net.