August 7, 1995

Physicians' Ability to Provide Initial Primary Care to an HIV-Infected Patient

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle.

Arch Intern Med. 1995;155(15):1613-1618. doi:10.1001/archinte.1995.00430150083009

Background:  Primary care physicians are providing care for an increasing number of persons infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). This study assesses the ability of primary care physicians to provide initial care for a patient with recently diagnosed HIV infection.

Methods:  A standardized patient (SP) was trained to portray an asymptomatic person with HIV infection seeking a primary care physician. Physicians took a medical history and counseled the SP; their performances were assessed by the SP and through a brief written examination. In addition, physicians distributed questionnaires to HIV-infected patients in their practices to assess actual performance. The study participants consisted of 121 primary care physicians.

Results:  A minority of physicians recommended standard primary care screening tests and vaccinations, including viral hepatitis screening (35%), syphilis serologic testing (32%), and pneumococcal vaccination (23%). While most physicians (87%) indicated they would obtain CD4 cell counts, only 50% indicated they would start appropriate Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia prophylaxis. Although this patient presented documentation of a positive tuberculin skin test and no prior therapy for tuberculosis, only 53% of the physicians recommended prophylactic isoniazid. While 75% of the physicians asked this SP about his HIV risk (sex with men), less than a third asked about condom use, number of sexual partners, or contact with previous sexual partners. Physicians with the most HIV experience were more likely to recommend P carinii pneumonia prophylaxis, coinfection screening, pneumococcal vaccination, and isoniazid prophylactic therapy. However, physicians' HIV experience was not associated with assessing this SP's risk of infecting others or with counseling regarding condom use. Questionnaires distributed to HIV-infected patients of these physicians generally confirmed these findings.

Conclusions:  Basic HIV preventive and primary care may not be adequately performed by many primary care physicians. Physicians' HIV experience was associated with better performance of HIV primary care tasks, but not with screening and counseling concerning the spread of HIV infection.(Arch Intern Med. 1995;155:1613-1618)