March 2, 2012
Under a bill approved Thursday by the state Senate, doctors in Massachusetts would have to obtain only verbal consent before testing a patient for HIV. Massachusetts and Nebraska are the only states that continue to require specific written consent for HIV testing, according to the National HIV/AIDS Clinicians' Consultation Center at the University of California-San Francisco.
The bill was written to bring Massachusetts in line with CDC's 2006 recommendation that states update their laws so that a patient's general consent to medical care would be considered sufficient for HIV testing.
The measure includes a provision that shields health care providers, institutions, and labs from criminal and civil actions as a result of sharing HIV information with the state Department of Public Health. Doctors have long lobbied for this protection. Since 2006, doctors have been required to report to the state the names of persons testing HIV-positive; however, this seemed to conflict with state law, which mandates that physicians obtain written consent before sharing information.
"This is much better than the [proposal] that came out last fall," said William Ryder, the legislative and regulatory counsel for the Massachusetts Medical Society, a doctors group that opposed an earlier version of the bill. But MMS is not entirely happy with the new bill, either: Its requirement that written informed consent be obtained every time HIV-related information is released from a patient's file creates barriers to treatment, physicians say.
Boston-based Fenway Health, which specializes in AIDS care, also expressed concern about the information-sharing stipulation. In a statement, CEO Dr. Stephen Boswell said this requirement presents "significant" problems.
The AIDS Action Committee released a statement applauding the Senate's passage of the bill. The measure now advances to the House.