Oregon Health Authorities to Require Doctors to Report Names of HIV-Positive Individuals
Oregon's new HIV reporting system will go into effect on Monday, according to state health officials, who announced on Wednesday their intention to proceed with a "modified version" of the system that will collect the names of those testing positive for HIV, despite fears about compromised confidentiality, the Portland Oregonian reports. Under the new system, physicians are required to report to the state the names of those newly diagnosed with HIV infection. The state will in turn keep the name confidential while the Department of Human Services conducts a follow-up investigation with the doctors. Once the information is confirmed and health officials are "assured" that the person is getting proper treatment and support information, the name will be converted into a numerical code and registered. According to Dr. Grant Higginson, the state public health officer, the health department "take[s] confidentiality very seriously" and the computer being used for the registry is an isolated unit kept in a locked room. Anyone who breaks the confidentiality of any person registered with the state will face "severe penalties," he added. People can still be tested anonymously at county public health clinics. However, if someone using a false name tests positive, the physician overseeing that person's treatment must report his or her real name. Higginson added that for those with "intense confidentiality concerns," the state can "collect only those letters of the name needed to create the unique identifier."
Concern About Confidentiality
In the past nine months, state public health officials have twice delayed implementation of the system in order to hold a series of public meetings across the state to address concerns about the program. Over 50 communicable diseases are already reportable by name in Oregon, but opponents to the new plan said that HIV is a special case because of the "fear and stigma" associated with the virus. However, the state said the modified name-based system will allow health officials to "track the changing epidemic," target prevention efforts at high-risk groups and ensure that those newly diagnosed are getting adequate medical care. The majority of states have some sort of HIV reporting system -- two-thirds use name-based systems, while 11 use unique identifiers, such as a numeric code. The DHS is also launching a "social marketing campaign" that will utilize "culturally appropriate messages" to promote HIV testing and awareness in high-risk communities, Higginson added (Colburn, Portland Oregonian, 9/27).