Objective: To examine how the time from HIV testing to care referral and from referral to care linkage influenced time to care engagement for newly diagnosed HIV-infected adolescents.
Methods: We evaluated the Care Initiative, a care linkage and engagement program for HIV-infected adolescents in 15 US clinics. We analyzed client-level factors, provider type, and intervals from HIV testing to care referral and from referral to care linkage as predictors of care engagement. Engagement was defined as a second HIV-related medical visit within 16 weeks of initial HIV-related medical visit (linkage).
Results: At 32 months, 2143 youth had been referred. Of these, 866 were linked to care through the Care Initiative within 42 days and thus eligible for study inclusion. Of the linked youth, 90.8% were ultimately engaged in care. Time from HIV testing to referral (eg, ≤7 days versus >365 days) was associated with engagement [adjusted odds ratio = 2.91; 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.43 to 5.94] and shorter time to engagement (adjusted hazard ratio = 1.41; 95% CI: 1.11 to 1.79). Individuals with shorter care referral to linkage intervals (eg, ≤7 days versus 22-42 days) engaged in care faster (adjusted hazard ratio = 2.90; 95% CI: 2.34 to 3.60) and more successfully (adjusted odds ratio = 2.01; 95% CI: 1.04 to 3.89).
Conclusions: These data address a critical piece of the care continuum and can offer suggestions of where and with whom to intervene to best achieve the care engagement goals outlined in the US National HIV/AIDS Strategy. These results may also inform programs and policies that set concrete milestones and strategies for optimal care linkage timing for newly diagnosed adolescents.