Massachusetts Medical Society Urges Legislature to Revise HIV Testing Bill

Contact: Richard Gulla
Tel: 781-434-7101
Email: rgulla@mms.org

Waltham, Mass. February 28, 2012 -- As the Massachusetts legislature prepares to take up a bill on HIV testing, the Massachusetts Medical Society is urging lawmakers to "address long-standing flaws in our HIV testing and confidentiality laws" and to make testing and treatment part of routine medical care, an approach long advocated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

In a letter to be distributed to state Senators Wednesday, MMS President Lynda Young, M.D. is proposing alternative language to Senate 1997 that would "protect patients' rights to control their medical information both in its release and restriction and that would recognize specific clinical issues essential to public health and comprehensive integrated medical care." She also said that the proposed language of the bill before the Senate "does not modernize our laws to take into account electronic medical records, HIPPA [Federal privacy laws], and changes in Massachusetts statutes and environment."

Dr. Young said "This issue must be addressed now, because electronic medical records experts have informed us that EMR's will not be able to effectively compartmentalize or segregate patients with HIV tests without identifying patients as having been tested, which the law prohibits." 

Her letter to the Senators seeks support for alternative language to the bill that accomplishes several steps:   

  • Adding non medical rapid testing programs to existing confidentiality protections

  • Allowing providers to meet the requirements for informed consent to test either through conversations or forms

  • Defining written informed consent and making clear that an informed patient may consent or decline the use of testing information and that multiple written forms are not required. In essence, an opt-in/opt-out option for patients

  • Clarifying that, with a single, specific patient consent, information may be included in medical records and that such records may be used in the course of treatment. Patients may also decline such consent

  • Specifying a patient's right to revoke their written informed consent for use of their information at any time

  • Legalizing mandated disease reporting to the Department of Public Health and others required by regulation

  • Clarifying that the recently passed organ donation law may include testing to comply with federal law and clinical standards on donations and is not preempted by passage of a new version of Chapter 111 Section 70 F

In a separate commentary posted on the Massachusetts Medical Society's website, Dr. Young said "It's time for a change, and CDC's approach of general consent for routine testing should be adopted. HIV/AIDS should be treated like other infectious diseases, and the information safeguarded like other health data by Federal laws that protect the privacy of patient information. State and Federal laws also protect HIV-infected people from housing, workplace, and medical care discrimination. Patients identified early can be treated effectively, reducing the chances of infecting others, particularly newborn children."

Noting that the number of people in Massachusetts with HIV/AIDS has increased 35 percent from 2000-2009, that 500 people are newly diagnosed every year, and that more than 20 percent do not know they are infected, Dr. Young further said "Routine testing, sharing of clinical information, and making referrals with standard consent procedures will allow earlier treatment and better outcomes for infected patients.

"Massachusetts should join the other 49 states that do not require written consent or unduly restrict the clinical use of data. Making HIV testing and treatment part of routine care is good public health policy, in the best interests of the patient's health and the public's health."

The Massachusetts Medical Society, with more than 23,000 physicians and student members, is dedicated to educating and advocating for the patients and physicians of Massachusetts. The Society publishes the New England Journal of Medicine, a leading global medical journal and web site, and Journal Watch alerts and newsletters covering 13 specialties. The Society is also a leader in continuing medical education for health care professionals throughout Massachusetts, conducting a variety of medical education programs for physicians and health care professionals. Founded in 1781, MMS is the oldest continuously operating medical society in the country. For more information, visit www.massmed.org, www.nejm.org, or www.jwatch.org.

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