Objectives: Undiagnosed human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection is not uncommon among patients who seek care in urban inner-city emergency departments (EDs). The optimal method for providing appropriate HIV counseling, testing, and referral in this setting is unclear. A previous evaluation of an outpatient referral system for HIV testing among patients seen in the ED demonstrated that only 11% returned to be tested; of those tested, 7% were seropositive. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effect of a financial incentive on the proportion of referred ED patients who completed outpatient HIV counseling and testing.
Methods: This was a quasi-experiment performed at an urban county teaching hospital. ED patients identified using Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines as being at risk for HIV infection were referred for outpatient HIV counseling and testing at our institution within one week. This study was divided into three study periods. During the first and third periods, no financial incentive was offered for completing HIV counseling and testing. During the second period, a 25 dollars incentive was offered for completing HIV counseling and testing.
Results: During the study, 372 patients were referred for HIV counseling and testing. During the control periods, 20 (8%) of 252 patients completed HIV counseling and testing; during the intervention period, 27 (23%) of 120 patients completed HIV counseling and testing (odds ratio, 3.4; 95% confidence interval = 1.8 to 6.3). Of the 47 patients who completed HIV counseling and testing, none (0%; 95% confidence interval = 0% to 8%) tested positive for HIV infection.
Conclusions: The use of a modest financial incentive increased the proportion of patients who completed HIV counseling and testing after being referred from the ED. It is unclear whether the use of a financial incentive increases the identification of HIV-infected patients unaware of their status or if it is cost-effective.