PORTLAND – Kaiser Permanente Northwest is apologizing to nearly 6,500 members in Oregon and Washington whose blood was tested for HIV without their knowledge or consent.
The health organization implemented a screening policy a month ago in line with a federal recommendation that virtually all adults be tested – as long as they’re given the chance to decline the test.
Previously, the government recommended tests only for people at high risk, such as gay men who engage in unprotected sex, or intravenous drug users, the Oregonian newspaper reported Thursday.
But that hasn’t slowed the spread of the disease, with 50,000 new HIV cases diagnosed annually.
About a third of people with HIV develop AIDS within a year, and about 20 percent of people with HIV don’t know they have it, according to the federal recommendation from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. About 11 percent of cases are attributed to heterosexual contact.
The new recommendation is intended to provide additional encouragement to providers and health systems, but for some people, HIV testing is a touchy subject.
Kaiser Permanente Northwest began phasing in the tests a month ago, beginning with people ages 50 to 65. It has sent letters of apology to those tested without their consent.
Asked about the mix-up, Kaiser Permanente issued a general statement attributed to Tom Hickey, the system’s chief medical operations officer.
“We deeply regret that this lack of communication may have caused unnecessary concern for our members and patients,” and Kaiser Permanente has “taken steps to ensure that members have an opportunity to opt out of the test going forward,” the statement said.