State Health Officials Announce New HIV-Reporting System Based on Codes, Not Names
California health officials announced last Friday that after June 30, doctors and laboratories will have to report new cases of HIV to the state based on numerical codes that correspond to HIV-positive individuals -- unlike 33 other states that "track patients by name confidentially," the Los Angeles Times reports. The issue of HIV reporting in the state has been the focus of "vigorous debate" since former Gov. Pete Wilson (R) in 1998 vetoed a bill to establish a similar code-based reporting system, the Times reports. Regulations first proposed by the Office of AIDS more than a year ago were approved by the Office of Administrative Law last Thursday, paving the way for implementation in July. Under the system, HIV testing laboratories will assign an individual a code -- based on birth date, gender and consonants in his or her last name -- each time a test turns up positive. The individual's physician will then add the last four digits of the patient's Social Security number to the code and report it to a local health agency. Individuals who are tested anonymously at sites that do not record names will not be included in the reporting system. The Times reports that the system "will put health officials in a better position to distribute money for HIV and AIDS treatments, services, education and prevention programs," as current funding is "largely based upon anecdotal information and AIDS statistics."
The decision to use a code-based HIV reporting system rather than the name-based system used by the state for 80 other diseases, including AIDS, has drawn both praise and criticism. Proponents of the new system, including several HIV/AIDS advocacy groups, said that it will help the state track HIV cases more effectively without compromising patient privacy or discouraging testing. But opponents said that the code-based system will prove "unwieldy and confusing" and will inhibit efforts to trace and notify partners of individuals who test positive for HIV, thereby limiting state health officials' ability to prevent new infections. "We think that the inability of health departments to get in touch with and work with the people who are infected misses a great opportunity to prevent further transmission," Dr. Ron Hattis, secretary-treasurer of Physicians for HIV Control, said (Ornstein, Los Angeles Times, 5/4).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.