Primary care doctors missed important signs of HIV infections three-quarters of the time in a new study in the Pacific Northwest, where AIDS cases are still relatively rare, researchers said.
A total of 134 general internists, family practitioners and general practitioners were recruited for the study from Washington, Alaska, Montana, Idaho and Oregon.
The physicians each examined patients who not only had the infection and common signs associated with it, but also who had been trained to give medical histories that pointed to the signs.
The signs included Kaposi’s sarcoma, a skin cancer common in people with HIV infections; oral hairy leukoplakia, white patches in the mouth; and diffuse lymphadenopathy, swelling of the lymph nodes.
Only 23 of 89 physicians evaluating the patient with Kaposi’s sarcoma, 22 of 97 physicians examining the patient with leukoplakia and 23 of 133 physicians looking at the patient with lymphadenopathy correctly diagnosed the conditions, researchers found.
The study was led by Dr. Douglas S. Paauw of the University of Washington.
Results are published in today’s issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.
In response to the study, the American Academy of Family Physicians said it is committed to improving the education of family physicians nationwide who treat patients with HIV disease.
“This study points out some very important areas of concern,” said Dr. Ronald Goldschmidt, a family physician and director of the National HIV Telephone Consultation Service based at San Francisco General Hospital.
“We recognize that more training is needed to improve primary care physicians’ knowledge and awareness in treating HIV.”
He noted that the study focused on physicians in less populated states, where fewer HIV cases occur and where physicians may have less awareness of the disease.