Telehealth and HIV diagnosis
Testing for HIV is a necessary first step in any patient's care plan and can be completed without an in-person visit.
Screening for HIV with telehealth
Any patient aged 15-65 should be screened for HIV risk during a telehealth appointment. These risk factors can help you identify potential untreated infections and prevent future transmission.
If a patient answers “yes” to any of the following questions, strongly recommend to them that they take an HIV test.
- Have you or your sexual partner(s) had other sexual partners in the past year?
- Have you ever had a sexually transmitted infection?
- Are you pregnant or considering becoming pregnant?
- Have you or your sexual partner(s) injected drugs or other substances and/or shared needles with another person?
- Have you ever had sex with a male partner who has had sex with another male?
- Have you ever had sex with a person who is HIV infected?
- Have you ever been paid for sex and/or had sex with a sex worker?
- Have you engaged in behavior resulting in blood-to-blood contact?
- Have you or your sexual partner(s) received a blood transfusion or blood products before 1985?
- Have you been the victim of rape, date rape, or sexual abuse?
There are two HIV self-testing options. These self-tests are covered by most insurance plans, and you can order them during a telehealth appointment.
A rapid self-test requires the user to swab an absorbent pad around the outer gums, near the teeth. This test can produce results within 20 minutes.
Mail-in self-tests come with a collection kit containing supplies to collect a blood sample from a fingerstick. After the sample has been sent to a lab for testing, the results are delivered by the organization that produces the kit.
If a patient’s rapid self-test returns a positive result, you should strongly recommend that they get re-tested to confirm their positive status. Mail-in self-tests are tested twice in a lab to confirm a positive sample.
If a patient has a confirmed positive test result, it’s important to start their care plan as soon as possible.
Ensuring access to HIV self-testing
If your practice cannot offer HIV self-testing, your patients can still get tested for little or no cost. CDC offers services that connect users with testing resources in their area.
A Summary of HIV Self-Testing Program Models and Lessons Learned (PDF) — from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
At-home Testing Program — from National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD)
Preparing patients for HIV telehealth treatment
Receiving an HIV diagnosis can be a traumatic experience.
Telehealth support groups and counseling can reduce that mental burden, keep patients on track with their treatment plans, and allow them to receive care from the comfort of their own safe space.
Contact your local health department to find mental health professionals in your area who specialize in virtual HIV care.
For low-income patients, the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program helps people with HIV who have no insurance or are underinsured get the medical care and other support services they need.