In a step to improve the exchange of patient information, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will begin allowing veterans' negative test results for HIV and sickle cell anemia to be shared between medical professionals without written authorization.
For years, data from these tests -- regardless of the result -- could not be shared with physicians outside the VA without written patient consent. But the agency, in a move supported by the AAFP,(1 page PDF) will lift this "unnecessary burden on veterans" with a new final rule(www.gpo.gov) that takes effect on April 24.
"We agree with the VA regulation that HIV testing is a common practice today in health care, and the stigma of testing that may have existed when HIV was first discovered is no longer prevalent," the AAFP told the VA in a Sept. 28, 2016, letter after the rule was proposed.
When the rule prohibiting exchange of this information without written consent was first adopted, the intent was to protect patients from stigma that was associated with HIV and HIV testing. The VA noted that such testing is now so routine that it requires only verbal consent and no pretest counseling. During the comment period after the rule change was proposed, one commenter noted that lifting the restriction of sharing negative test results will further combat any remaining stigma.
The rule addresses only negative test results and does not change how positive tests for HIV or sickle cell anemia are handled. In such cases, the VA will continue to require written authorization from the veteran to release results to medical professionals outside the agency.
In its 2016 letter, the AAFP emphasized the importance of sharing patient information without unnecessary delays.
"We applaud the VA for issuing this proposed rule since it helps eliminate the current barrier to electronic medical information exchange," the AAFP wrote.
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