More than 100,000 HIV tests have been performed in the emergency center at Ben Taub General Hospital, part of the Harris County Hospital District, since it began its large-scale routine HIV testing program in August 2008.
The testing program, RUSH (Routine Universal Screening for HIV), is one of the largest and most successful in the nation. Unless patients opt out, they are administered an HIV test as part of their diagnostic blood work during their emergency visit. With more than 106,000 patient visits last year, Ben Taub Hospital’s emergency center is one of the busiest in Texas.
“It’s important that we increase overall HIV screening nationally and that includes in the nation’s emergency centers,” says Dr. Shkelzen Hoxhaj, chief, Emergency Medicine, Ben Taub General Hospital and, associate professor, Medicine Department, Baylor College of Medicine. “The benefits of increased screenings include improved disease detection, reducing future transmission of disease, reduced healthcare costs and improved patient morbidity/mortality from HIV infection.”
Since its start, the testing program has a 1.78 percent prevalence rate of new and previously diagnosed HIV-positive patients. The newly diagnosed rate is 0.5 percent, well above the 0.1 percent prevalence rate designated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for communities to offer a testing program. In 2006, CDC recommended more routine testing for HIV among healthcare providers.
“We want to make getting an HIV test as easy as getting a glucose exam for diabetes or a cholesterol test for heart disease,” Hoxhaj says. “There shouldn’t be any hesitation about getting tested. It’s the right thing to do for the community.”
In its latest reports, CDC estimates a surge of 11 million HIV tests done. However, more than half of Americans aged 18-64 have never been tested. Additionally, minority populations are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS: Blacks represent the highest rate of new infections, 59 per 100,000 and Hispanics, 10 per 100,000.
People who get tested early and receive treatment improve their chances of living without HIV/AIDS’ long-term complications or related illnesses.
In addition to Ben Taub Hospital, the Harris County Hospital District offers its RUSH HIV testing program at Lyndon B. Johnson General Hospital and several of its community health centers. RUSH has administered nearly 180,000 HIV tests and identified 2,689 HIV-positive cases including 729 newly identified cases.
While other healthcare providers offer HIV testing, the Harris County Hospital District’s program is unique in its ability to connect new and previously-diagnosed HIV-positive patients to its specialized HIV/AIDS treatment facility, Thomas Street Health Center, the nation’s first free-standing treatment facility for HIV/AIDS.
“Trained HIV counselors are notified when a positive test is discovered, and they meet directly with the patient to inform of test results, provide appropriate education and counseling, and assist with making an appointment for follow-up care at Thomas Street,” says Ken Malone, HIV Testing Project Coordinator, Harris County Hospital District.
The Harris County Hospital District is part of a CDC-funded collaborative coordinated by the City of Houston’s Health and Human Services Department to expand testing. Other partners in the effort include Memorial Hermann Healthcare System and Legacy Community Health Services.