HIV is like no other condition. But a new study found that only 20% of HIV-positive Americans consistently utilize health care tailored specifically to their disease.
A comprehensive study published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes tracked nearly 23,000 people who received HIV care between 2001 and 2009. It found that many patients failed to keep up with specialized HIV care after they were diagnosed. A full 22% of patients never sought any care from an HIV doctor or clinic.
The investigators defined three measures of HIV care: establishment of care by going to a follow-up appointment six or more months after being diagnosed; retention of care by having two or more follow-up appointments a year at least 90 days apart; and loss of care by going a year or more without seeking medical attention.
The ramifications of avoiding specific care are serious; researchers have connected the phenomenon with reduced drug adherence and higher mortality rates.
“A minority of [people living with HIV] established and consistently engaged in HIV outpatient care,” wrote the study’s authors, who are part of the HIV Research Network. “These results suggest that our health care system faces significant challenges in providing continuous, long-term care to the majority of the HIV-infected population.”