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February 8, 1993

HIV-Infected Health Care Professionals: Public Opinion About Testing, Disclosing, and Switching

Author Affiliations

From the School of Dentistry (Drs Gerbert and Bleecker), Center for AIDS Prevention Studies (Drs Gerbert, Bleecker, Berlin, and Coates), and School of Medicine (Dr Coates), University of California, San Francisco.

Arch Intern Med. 1993;153(3):313-320. doi:10.1001/archinte.1993.00410030029005

Background:  We wanted to know what the public believes about the risks of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) transmission in health care settings, and what opinions the public holds regarding HIV-infected health care professionals. We also wanted to uncover the correlates and predictors of those opinions.

Methods:  A telephone survey of a nationwide random probability sample of adults was conducted in summer 1991. Thirteen hundred fifty adults completed the survey. The response rate was approximately 63%. We assessed (1) public opinion about whether HIV-infected physicians, surgeons, and dentists should quit working, and (2) the public's self-reported intention to remain in the care of an HIV-infected professional or to switch to another provider.

Results:  Public concern about HIV transmission in health care settings has increased from 19% in 1988 to 38% in 1991. More of the public now believes that transmission from HIV-infected physicians is likely (up from 33% in 1988 to 46% in 1991). Yet, fewer respondents believe that HIV-infected physicians should not be allowed to work (45% vs 39%). Only 5% would deprive HIV-infected physicians of their livelihood as physicians. Fewer would switch from HIV-infected physicians now than in 1988 (56% vs 37%). Knowing someone with HIV infection was related to less concern and to less belief in likelihood of transmission as well as to increased support of HIV-infected health professionals' right to work.

Conclusions:  Although the public is more concerned about HIV transmission in health care settings since 1988, fewer would not allow HIV-infected health care professionals to work now than in 1988. Personalizing the epidemic, by using personal physicians and people with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome as educators, might help continue the trend toward improved attitudes toward HIV-infected health care professionals.(Arch Intern Med. 1993;153:313-320)