One in Four U.S. HIV Patients Don't Stay in Care, Penn Study Shows
More Than Half of Patients Found to Have Long Gaps in Between Appointments
March 5, 2012 - PHILADELPHIA - Only about
75 percent of HIV/AIDS patients in the United States remain in care consistently, according to new research from
the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania published
online this week in AIDS . The study of patients across the United States is the first to provide a comprehensive national estimate
of HIV care retention and information about patients who are most likely to continue their treatment over time.
"Helping patients with HIV stay in care is a key way to reduce their chances of getting sick from their disease and
prevent the spread of HIV in the community. Our findings show that too many patients are falling through the cracks," says the
study's lead author, Baligh R. Yehia, MD , a fellow in the division of Infectious Disease and the Health
Policy Research Program at Penn Medicine. "The benefits of keeping patients in care are clear both for patients and the
community at large, and it may even result in decreased health care costs by preventing unnecessary hospitalization
for an acute illness."
The researchers studied 17,425 adult patients cared for at 12 clinics within the HIV Research Network, a consortium
that cares for HIV-infected patients across the nation, between 2001 and 2008. Just 42 percent of patients studied had what
researchers defined as "no gap" in treatment - intervals of no more than six months in between outpatient visits - over
the timeframe studied, while 31 percent had one or more seven- to 12-month gaps in care. Twenty-eight percent
appeared to have gone without care for more than a year on one or more occasions. Since there is no gold
standard on the best way to measure retention in care, the team used three different measures of
retention to examine each patient's visit record.
Women, white patients, older patients, male patients who were infected via sex with men, and patients who began treatment
on Medicare (compared to those on private insurance) were all more likely to remain in care more consistently. Retention was also
greater among patients whose CD4 counts - the measure of how advanced the disease is - were very low, at the point associated
with AIDS, when they entered care.
The team suggests that their findings may help guide clinicians in assessing which patients are more likely to follow
their prescribed visit schedule, and develop intervention strategies to improve their chances of adhering to their care. "Clinicians
need to know what barriers to screen for, so our findings help to better define groups of patients who may require extra help to
stay on track," says the study's senior author and Yehia's mentor, Kelly Gebo, MD, an associate professor of Medicine at the
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Housing, transportation and financial problems, substance abuse and mental
illness can all be contributors to problems with care retention, and patients who don't have symptoms may not believe
they're "sick" enough to require regular visits with their providers.
Yehia also notes that a standardized criteria for determining the appropriate time between visits is needed,
since patients who are at various stages in their disease, have other health conditions or certain social circumstances
may require unique plans for care - thus making it hard to assess aggregate retention across the entire HIV
population. And since patients may switch doctors, move frequently, go to jail or become institutionalized
and still receive care during those times, the research team suggests additional studies that track
patients across those circumstances, such as research involving data from insurance records.
Questions also remain about how HIV treatment retention may change as time passes during what has become, for many,
a chronic condition spanning decades of their lives.
"It's possible that as time goes by, some patients may become more regular users of care, while others may become
complacent and skip appointments," Yehia says. "We need to better pinpoint times when certain patients may be less likely to
remain in treatment and find ways to ensure their continued care."
In addition to Yehia and Josh Metlay, MD, PhD, also from Penn, other authors of the paper include investigators
from Hopkins, Oregon Health and Sciences University, and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
Penn Medicine is one of the world's leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions
of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman
School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University
of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $4 billion enterprise.
Penn's Perelman School of Medicine is currently ranked #2 in U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented
medical schools and among the top 10 schools for primary care. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of
funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $507.6 million awarded in the 2010 fiscal year.
The University of Pennsylvania Health System's patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of
Pennsylvania -- recognized as one of the nation's top 10 hospitals by U.S. News & World Report; Penn Presbyterian Medical Center;
and Pennsylvania Hospital - the nation's first hospital, founded in 1751. Penn Medicine also includes additional patient care
facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region.
Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities.
In fiscal year 2010, Penn Medicine provided $788 million to benefit our community.
Source: Penn Medicine: University of Pennsylvania