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J Gen Intern Med. 1997 Feb;12(2):107-13.

HIV risk screening in the primary care setting. Assessment of physicians skills.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle 98195-6420, USA.



To assess the content and extent of HIV risk assessment by primary care physicians across a diverse panel of patients with unidentified HIV risk behaviors.


Standardized patient examination to assess primary care physicians' skills at identifying and managing HIV infection and overall clinical skills. In a day of testing, physicians saw 13-16 standardized patients (SPs) with diverse case presentations. In analyses presented here, physician performance was examined with nine SPs who had unidentified risks for HIV, which they offered if asked.


An academic clinic.


We randomly selected 134 paid volunteers (general internists and family/general practitioners) after stratifying by specialty, experience caring for patients with HIV infection, and year of medical school graduation.


Performance at initiating HIV risk screening and identifying patients' HIV risk behaviors were the main outcome measures. Physicians performed variably at HIV risk screening with different patients and across different HIV risk screening topics. Although physicians initiated screening with 60% of patients, they identified only 49% of risk behaviors and included HIV in the differential diagnosis for less than half of at-risk patients. Physicians performed better with cases in which there was a higher probability of HIV infection based on symptoms, but often did not screen at-risk patients without obvious symptoms suggestive of HIV. Board-certified general internists initiated screening and identified risk behaviors with more patients than board-certified family practitioners. Medical school graduation year also influenced performance.


Our data suggest that primary care physicians do not routinely perform HIV risk assessments with patients who have risk behaviors for HIV infection. Methods are needed to develop, standardize, and disseminate better screening techniques to identify patients with or at risk of developing HIV infection, such as written HIV risk screening questions for use in medical intake forms.

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