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How can HIV prevention be integrated into health care settings?

Prepared by Carol Dawson-Rose RN PhD, Janet Myers PhD MPH, and Karen McCready MA; CAPS
Fact Sheet 68, July 2010

Why is HIV prevention important in health care settings?

HIV prevention is an important part of health care for all individuals. It is particularly key for those at risk of becoming infected, as well as for those who are already infected, who can then avoid transmitting HIV to others and stay healthy themselves. Many strategies can be used in health care settings to optimize HIV prevention, including: assessing HIV risk; enhancing access to HIV testing; providing HIV-infected patients with disclosure and partner services; screening and treating patients for problem drinking, drug use and sexually transmitted infections (STIs); and providing the best possible care to HIV-infected individuals including access to anti-retroviral therapy (ARVs) and adherence counseling.

Do health care settings have a role in finding new infections?

Health care settings are important sites for providing access to HIV testing and prevention messages, for finding new infections and for linking infected individuals into HIV care. In 2006, the CDC issued guidelines for primary health care providers suggesting expanded access to HIV testing for all patients 13 to 64 years old. Providing HIV testing as a routine part of care has been most productive in emergency room and labor and delivery settings, although community health centers have also provided important new access. Testing programs have also proven effective in helping pregnant women to not transmit HIV to their babies.

One key strategy for expanding testing is rapid test technology. Rapid tests allow providers to perform a test and deliver the results in under an hour, although a confirmatory test is required for positive rapid test results. Appropriate follow-up care can be planned before the patient leaves the health care facility.

Especially when HIV testing is newly introduced, providers in health care settings need to learn how to integrate HIV testing into regular care, and to refer patients for additional support services if needed. Providers should also be trained in documenting test results to ensure they are shared with other health care providers and to maintain the confidentiality of client information.

Providers must ensure that HIV-infected persons get the care and support they need. Linkage to care is an important and often overlooked piece of integrating HIV testing into health care. Individuals who are just finding out they are infected often need a great deal of help and support to find an HIV provider, to make an appointment and to show up at that appointment. Intensive case management models show promise in enhancing linkages to care for newly-diagnosed individuals.

What other HIV prevention strategies work in health care settings?

Risk assessment. Assessing HIV risk behaviors should be a standard part of new patient intake, regardless of HIV status. In-depth HIV prevention education is not necessary for every patient. However, health care providers should ask all patients about their sexual behavior, condom use, number of sexual partners, and alcohol and illicit drug use to assess a patient’s risk for acquiring or transmitting HIV. These quick questions may lead to longer discussions and counseling about safer sex or alcohol and drug use practices.

Drug treatment. Helping patients get into alcohol or drug treatment can be an effective HIV prevention tool and can help HIV-infected persons stay healthy. Health care providers can have a profound effect on patients’ lives by showing an interest in drug-using patients and encouraging willing patients to enter drug or alcohol treatment programs. Because relapse is common in treating addictions, health care providers should use a non-judgmental approach.

Screening and treating for STIs. Providers should encourage screening for STIs. They should also provide STI education, emphasize the link between HIV and STIs, and encourage screening for partners.

How does positive prevention work in health care settings?

Prevention counseling. Brief prevention counseling delivered in health care settings at every visit has been shown to decrease the likelihood that HIV-infected individuals transmit HIV to others, particularly if interventions are tailored to sub-populations of HIV-infected patients. Important messages include: helping people understand the relative risks of their actions and the effectiveness of different prevention strategies such as using condoms; disclosing HIV status to sex and drug using partners; and understanding their responsibility with regard to prevention. Formal provider training is important to facilitate these approaches.

Viral suppression. A unique component that health care settings play in HIV prevention is helping HIV-infected persons find and adhere to an effective ARV regimen to help keep their viral load low. Some research has demonstrated that keeping the viral load below a threshold that is detectable with lab tests can help prevent up to 60% of new STIs. New research suggests that effective detection of HIV and treatment to reduce the viral load could reduce the overall community viral load and have a population-level impact on HIV transmission.

How can HIV prevention capacity be increased in health care settings?

Risk assessment. Knowing how to assess risk among patients is key to HIV prevention of any kind. Having risk assessment tools and training providers to use them is critical.

Written protocols. It is important to make sure that procedures are in place to guide testing efforts in health care settings. Having a “prevention plan” tailored to the clinic size, the service delivery model, the types of providers and the patient population is critical.

Leadership. Successful clinic programs often have identified staff leaders who function as counselors or team leaders for positive prevention.

Training. Underlying all of these important components is training. Training can facilitate buy-in from clinic providers and can address provider attitudes and beliefs about risk reduction and counseling. Training should outline staff responsibilities and anticipate changes to clinic flow.

What are effective models for use in health care settings?

Positive STEPs is a training intervention to help HIV care providers deliver prevention counseling to their patients. The model was effective in improving provider attitudes, comfort, self-efficacy and frequency of delivering prevention counseling.

Partnership for Health is an EBI (CDC’s Effective Behavioral Intervention) for providers in HIV clinics. Medical providers are trained to deliver brief risk-reduction counseling to their patients. All clinic staff are trained to integrate prevention messages into the clinic setting, and counseling is supplemented with written information for all patients. The intervention was effective in reducing unprotected intercourse by 38% among patients who had two or more sexual partners.

Positive Choice is an interactive “Video Doctor.” Patients at HIV clinics completed an in-depth computerized risk assessment and received tailored risk-reduction counseling from a “Video Doctor” via laptop computer and a printed educational worksheet. Providers received a Cueing Sheet on reported risks for discussion during the clinical encounter.

Provider-Delivered Counseling. In a large federal demonstration project, brief counseling messages delivered by primary care providers in clinic settings were most effective in reducing risk among HIV-infected patients, although there were also benefits in programs delivered by prevention specialists and HIV-infected peers.

What needs to be done?

Health care providers need more and repeated training on how HIV prevention can be integrated into the care they deliver. There are still significant misperceptions among health care providers about who should be tested for HIV and when to implement rapid testing. Provider attitudes, beliefs and self-efficacy can affect whether or not they address prevention through HIV testing or by providing risk-reduction counseling. Methods that enhance provider uptake of HIV prevention in health care delivery settings need attention and further research.

Leaders in health care settings can establish written protocols that guide HIV prevention practices, including HIV testing in their clinics. Establishing protocols, documentation and quality assurance practices can enhance testing and prevention practices in all types of health care settings.


Says who?

1. Branson BM, Handsfield HH, Lampe MA, et al. Revised recommendations for HIV testing of adults, adolescents, and pregnant women in health-care settings.Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2006;55:1-17.

2. Haukoos JS, Hopkins E, Byyny RL, et al. Patient acceptance of rapid HIV testing practices in an urban emergency department: assessment of the 2006 CDC recommendations for HIV screening in health care settings. Annals of Emergency Medicine. 2008;51:303-309.

3. Tepper NK, Farr SL, Danner SP, et al. Rapid human immunodeficiency virus testing in obstetric outpatient settings: the MIRIAD study. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 2009;201:31-36.

4. Myers JJ, Modica C, Bernstein C, Kang M, McNamara K. Routine rapid HIV screening in six Community Health Centers serving populations at risk. Journal of General Internal Medicine. 2009;24:1269–1274.

5. Branson BM. State of the art for diagnosis of HIV infection. Clinical Infectious Diseases. 2007;15:S221-225.

6. Christopoulos K, Koester K, Weiser S, et al. A comparative evaluation of the development and implementation of three emergency department HIV testing programs (forthcoming)

7. Schechtel J, Coates T, Mayer K, et al. HIV risk assessment: physician and patient communication. Journal of General Internal Med. 1997;12:722-723.

8. Bruce RD. Methadone as HIV prevention: High volume methadone sites to decrease HIV incidence rates in resource limited settings. International Journal of Drug Policy. 2010;21:122-124.

9. McClelland RS, Baeten JM. Reducing HIV-1 transmission through prevention strategies targeting HIV-1-seropositive individuals. Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy. 2006;57:163-166.

10. Myers JJ, Shade S, Dawson Rose C, et al. Interventions delivered in clinical settings are effective in reducing risk of HIV transmission among people living with HIV. AIDS and Behavior. 2010;14:483-492.

11. Gilliam PP, Straub DM. Prevention with positives: A review of published research, 1998-2008. Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care. 2009;20:92-109.

12. Harder & Co. Community Research. Prevention with positives: Best practices Guide. Prevention with Positives Workgroup. 2009.

13. Porco TC, Martin JN, Page-Shafer KA, et al. Decline in HIV infectivity following the introduction of highly active antiretroviral therapy. AIDS. 2004;18:81-88.

14. Das M, Chu PL, Santos G-M, et al. Decreases in community viral load are accompanied by reductions in new HIV infections in San Francisco. PLoS ONE. 2010;5:e11068.

15. Myers JJ, Steward, WT, Koester KA, et al. Written procedures enhance delivery of HIV “prevention with positives” counseling in primary health care settings. Journal of AIDS. 2004;37:S95-S100.

16. Koester KA, Maiorana A, Vernon K, et al. Implementation of HIV prevention interventions with people living with HIV/AIDS in clinical settings: Challenges and lessons learned. AIDS and Behavior. 2007;1:S17-S29.

17. Thrun M, Cook PF, Bradley-Springer LA, et al. Improved prevention counseling by HIV care providers in a multisite, clinic-based intervention: Positive STEPs. AIDS Education and Prevention. 2009;21:55-66.

18. Richardson J, Milam J, McCutchan A, et al. Effect of brief safer-sex counseling by medical providers to HIV-1 seropositive patients: A multi-clinic assessment. AIDS. 2004;18:1179-1186.

19. Gilbert P, Ciccarone D, Gansky SA, et al. Interactive “Video Doctor” counseling reduces drug and sexual risk behaviors among HIV+ patients in diverse outpatient settings. PLoS One. 2008;3.


Special thanks to the following reviewers of this Fact Sheet: Lucy Bradley-Springer, Kimberly Carbaugh, Mark Cichocki, Renata Dennis, Josh Ferrer, Mark Molnar, Quentin O’Brien, Jim Sacco.

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