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Public Health Rep. 2005 May-Jun;120(3):259-65.

Health department collaboration with emergency departments as a model for public health programs among at-risk populations.

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Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Cincinnati, OH, USA.



Accessing at-risk and underserved populations for intervention remains a major obstacle for public health programs. Emergency departments (EDs) care for patients not otherwise interacting with the health care system, and represent a venue for such programs. A variety of perceived and actual barriers inhibit widespread implementation of ED-based public health programs. Collaboration between local health departments and EDs may overcome such barriers. The goal of this study was to assess the effectiveness of a health department-funded, ED-based public health program in comparison with other similar community-based programs through analysis of data reported by health department-funded HIV counseling and testing centers in one Ohio county.


Data for HIV counseling and testing at publicly funded sites in southwestern Ohio from January 1999 through December 2002 were obtained from the Ohio Department of Health. Demographic and risk-factor profiles were compared between the counseling and testing program located in the ED of a large, urban teaching hospital and the other publicly funded centers in the same county.


A total of 26,382 patients were counseled and tested; 5,232 were ED patients, and 21,150 were from community sites. HIV positivity was 0.86% (95% confidence interval [CI] 0.64%, 1.15%) in the ED and 0.65% (95% CI 0.55%, 0.77%) elsewhere. The ED program accounted for 19.8% of all tests and 24.7% of all positive results. The ED notified 77.3% of individuals testing positive and 84.4% of individuals testing negative. At community program centers, 88.3% of patients testing positive and 63.8% of patients testing negative were notified of results. All ED patients notified of positive status were successfully referred to infectious disease specialists.


Public health programs can operate effectively in the ED. EDs should have a rapidly expanding role in the national public health system.

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