Tuesday, April 18, 2006

California will track AIDS patients by name.

From the Los Angeles Times
Schwarzenegger Signs Bill to Track HIV Cases by Name
By Michelle Keller
Times Staff Writer

April 18, 2006

Epidemiologists tracking the spread of HIV in California will begin using data based on patient names rather than relying on a flawed code-based system under a new law signed Monday by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The shift will ensure that California continues to receive more than $50 million annually for HIV/AIDS care from the federal government, which has ruled that code-based reporting is unreliable. With at least 38 states already signed on to use patient names, California is one of a handful of states still using alphanumeric codes to identify HIV cases.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Nell Soto (D-Pomona), unanimously cleared the state Senate and Assembly and was lauded by health officials around the state.

"This is a historic moment in time in fighting AIDS," said Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. "We're aligning the way we handle AIDS to how we handle all other public health issues."

Under the code system, enacted in July 2002, healthcare providers and labs reported HIV infections to local health agencies and the state Department of Health Services using codes created from birth dates, gender and elements of the patient's last name.

The practice of using codes was created to ensure patient confidentiality, but proved to be a bureaucratic nightmare for health officials. County health departments have reported difficulties in exchanging data with doctors and duplication of HIV cases. Sorting out errors, argue proponents of the bill, has proven to be both expensive and time-consuming.

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