Anonymous HIV testing programs encourage people to get tested earlier and therefore to begin medical treatment earlier, according to a new study led by University of California San Francisco researchers.
Study results appear in the October 28 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
"HIV is the only infectious disease with dedicated anonymous testing programs that are funded by public health departments, and this practice has been controversial. We wanted to find out if this strategy worked to get people at risk for HIV infection to come in earlier for testing and care," said principal investigator Andrew Bindman, MD, director of the UCSF Primary Care Research Center at San Francisco General Hospital Medical Center."
"Our study findings show two important outcomes. Anonymous testing is associated with earlier diagnosis of HIV infection, which means persons who know they are HIV positive can take steps to control the spread of the virus, and to earlier follow-up treatment, which can significantly impact quality and length of life," he added.
The research team compared the two types of HIV testing--confidential and anonymous--in seven states: Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, and Texas.
In confidential testing, a person's name is linked to the specimen and test results are recorded in a medical chart with the name. The chart is handled according to standard confidentiality guidelines for medical records.
In anonymous testing, a unique identifying label (usually a number) rather then a patient's name is used to link the specimen and the result to the patient. The result is not recorded in a medical chart that has a patient name. The anonymous testing procedure was developed because of the stigma of AIDS in the early days of the epidemic and concerns that there would be breaches in the confidentiality of the medical chart.