Conveying Negative HIV Test Results: Features of a Good Diagnosis
A brief guide for health professionals when providing a negative HIV result.
The process of conveying an HIV test result to the person being tested, irrespective of the specific result, is affected by the type of test performed, the setting of the consultation and testing and the extent, if any, of additional testing required to determine the true HIV status of the person. The person who requests the test is responsible for ensuring that appropriate mechanisms are in place for delivering the test result.
The window period will be determined by the type of test used. More advanced HIV tests can detect infection sooner than others, however not all jurisdictions currently use the more advanced technology. It is important that a practitioner delivering a test result is aware of what test is being used and how soon after infection it can detect infection. If they do not have that information, then a window period of 3 months should be used. Alternatively, the practitioner could contact the testing laboratory pathologist for window period information on their test type.
Conveying an HIV-negative result
The decision on how an HIV-negative test result is provided (e.g. in person, by phone, or other means) will be based on the clinical judgment of the person responsible for conveying the test result. This decision should take account the level of knowledge about HIV, the understanding of the testing process and psychological capacity to deal with the outcome of testing of the person being tested, as assessed at the time of sample collection. It is imperative that the clinician makes all attempts to ensure that the result is being provided to the person who was tested e.g. in person, phone and SMS.
It is imperative to recheck that the person understands the duration of the window period of the test performed and the implications this has for that person. It is wise to recheck the risk history at the time the result is provided.
It is important to give advice about the need for further testing in light of the person’s risk history within the window period and ongoing risk of acquiring HIV infection.
It is an opportunity to discuss and reinforce safer sex practices.