Search tips
Search criteria 


Logo of nihpaAbout Author manuscriptsSubmit a manuscriptHHS Public Access; Author Manuscript; Accepted for publication in peer reviewed journal;
Acad Emerg Med. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2011 September 15.
Published in final edited form as:
PMCID: PMC3173973

Nomenclature and Definitions for Emergency Department Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Testing: Report from the 2007 Conference of the National Emergency Department HIV Testing Consortium

Michael S. Lyons, MD, Christopher J. Lindsell, PhD, Jason S. Haukoos, MD, MSc, Gregory Almond, MD, MPH, MS, Jeremy Brown, MD, Yvette Calderon, MD, MS, Eileen Couture, DO, MS, Roland C. Merchant, MD, MPH, ScD, Douglas A.E. White, MD, and Richard E. Rothman, MD, PhD, on behalf of the National Emergency Department HIV Testing Consortium


Early diagnosis of persons infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) through diagnostic testing and screening is a critical priority for individual and public health. Emergency departments (EDs) have an important role in this effort. As EDs gain experience in HIV testing, it is increasingly apparent that implementing testing is conceptually and operationally complex. A wide variety of HIV testing practice and research models have emerged, each reflecting adaptations to site-specific factors and the needs of local populations. The diversity and complexity inherent in nascent ED HIV testing practice and research are associated with the risk that findings will not be described according to a common lexicon. This article presents a comprehensive set of terms and definitions that can be used to describe ED-based HIV testing programs, developed by consensus opinion from the inaugural meeting of the National ED HIV Testing Consortium. These definitions are designed to facilitate discussion, increase comparability of future reports, and potentially accelerate wider implementation of ED HIV testing.

Keywords: human immunodeficiency virus, HIV testing, emergency department, guidelines, definitions, consensus

Need for Consensus Definitions

The importance of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) testing in the emergency department (ED) has long been recognized,1 and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently charged emergency providers with making HIV testing a “routine” part of clinical emergency medical care.2 Although still in its infancy, ED-based HIV testing has grown beyond the few initial pioneering centers.312 Ongoing clinical programs, research studies, and demonstration projects are under way in many EDs, often with funding from a variety of organizations, including health departments, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), the CDC, and various private foundations. The programmatic details of ED HIV testing are complex and are highly dependent on individual settings. As a result, variations in methods for ED HIV testing are becoming increasingly apparent.7,11,1324

As ED HIV testing evolves beyond feasibility studies to larger-scale implementation, objective data that allow comparison of research and program experiences are needed. Productive debate and translation of knowledge is enhanced by transparent and consistent use of common terminology that decreases the likelihood of misinterpretation or ambiguity. The existence of terminology ambiguity in relation to ED-based HIV testing is already apparent in the literature,14,17,25 and thus it is timely to develop consensus nomenclature and definitions. In November 2007, an open-invitation panel of experts was convened in part for that purpose.

Consensus Development and Process

An organizing committee of emergency researchers with experience in ED-based HIV testing planned a national meeting to systematically discuss key issues related to ED-based HIV testing, including terminology and definitions, guidelines for reporting practices and research findings, ethical and regulatory issues, operational variables, and screening impact. The inaugural conference of the National Emergency Department HIV Testing Consortium convened in Baltimore, Maryland, on November 12, 2007. Invitations to attend the conference were extended to those known by the conference organizers to be involved in existing or planned ED-based HIV testing at academic and community institutions. Attendees were encouraged to further distribute invitations to other potential participants from other institutions. Selected leadership organizations were also asked to send representatives. In total, there were 98 attendees at the conference, and 42 healthcare institutions from around the country were represented. Organizational representatives included those from the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine (SAEM), the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), the HIV Medicine Association (HIVMA), and the CDC, as well as state health departments, advocacy organizations, and foundations.

A primary goal of the conference was to develop consensus definitions that would provide a common lexicon for the reporting of results from ED-based HIV testing research and clinical programs. A related goal was to develop a reporting guideline using these consensus definitions that would further characterize optimal presentation and content when preparing submissions relevant to ED-based HIV testing. Prior to the meeting, the primary authors of this article prepared a set of terms and definitions with an associated draft reporting guideline for ED-based HIV testing efforts, derived from their combined experiences and knowledge of the field. All conference attendees were encouraged to review a discussion guide, the draft definitions, the reporting guideline, and several pertinent manuscripts,2,14,17 which were all distributed 1 month prior to the conference. The discussion guide listed questions that would be posed during the conference and specifically highlighted key areas of likely controversy, where there was known ambiguity and new approaches were being proposed.

Conference attendees were divided into four groups of 20–25 persons. Each group attended a 70-minute discussion session focused on development of consensus definitions and reporting guidelines. Conference organizers formed the groups in advance of the meeting and attempted to diversify the group composition to provide a mixture of persons from different academic, clinical, and institutional backgrounds. Each group session was led by a trained focus-group facilitator, and the session proceedings were recorded by video tape, audio tape, and a scribe. One of four moderators (MSL, CJL, JSH, RER; the primary authors) was present at each of the sessions to answer questions and provide any needed clarification about the definitions, the intent of the project, and the scope of the discussion sessions.

The focus group facilitator used a structured guide to direct discussion. Participants were first asked to initiate the discussion with any points they wanted to raise about content, scope, or consensus process. Following these discussions, the facilitators posed predetermined questions that the moderators believed might be the most controversial or contain areas of ambiguity.

After the consensus conference, the primary authors reviewed all comments recorded by the scribe and facilitator. In addition, the lead author reviewed the session recordings to ensure that the scribe and facilitator records accurately and completely reflected the discussion content. The primary authors then revised the definitions according to input from conference participants. Conference participants were sent electronic copies of the revised definitions for further review using an electronic listserv, in the attempt to not only promote critique, but further public discussion.

After reviewing further critiques and then finalizing the consensus definitions, the first draft of this article was developed by the primary authors and distributed to the larger group of core authors for further revision. Finally, the draft was distributed to all conference participants, including organizational representatives, for final comment to ensure that it ultimately reflected consensus. This article contains the final version of the terms and definitions developed via the consensus process described. A follow-up article utilizing these definitions will serve to provide the detailed consensus guideline for reporting on ED HIV testing.


The global organization of the consensus definitions is illustrated in Figure 1, which shows the categorization of key steps in the HIV testing process according to setting, procedures for recruitment and consent, postconsent program methods, and outcome measures. Each of these four content areas is linked to related tables of terminology and corresponding definitions (Tables 14). A table defining key summary measures of the testing process is also provided (Table 5). No further text accompanying the definitions is provided, as they are designed to be self-explanatory. Accordingly, detailed review of problems in prior terminology or specific justifications of each new term or definition are not provided in this report. Notably, conference participants consistently expressed the need for clarification of terminology and demonstrated the ability to achieve consensus via discussion

Figure 1
Article organization. ED = emergency department; HIV = human immunodeficiency virus.
Table 1
Consensus Definitions and Core Theoretical Constructs: Setting
Table 4
Consensus Definitions and Core Theoretical Constructs: Outcome Measures
Table 5
Key Summary Measures

Utility and Limitations of Consensus Definitions

The suggested utility of these terms and definitions is to provide a blueprint for conceptualizing and describing ED-based HIV testing. The framework outlined here should accelerate knowledge translation by providing a common lexicon to facilitate discussion and interpretation of what would otherwise be an ambiguous evidence base. Clarity of discourse should enhance site-specific operational planning as ED HIV testing expands. These definitions are not themselves sufficient to constitute a reporting guideline; the definitions will determine the terminology used in reporting, but do not specify what is reported. Accordingly, an article that fully describes consensus guidelines for ED HIV testing reporting will be developed.

It is important to note that these definitions are not intended as a dictum for ways in which HIV testing should be conducted. No element of this guideline is designed to promote or detract from past, current, or future clinical or operational practice. Some definitions are not likely to be relevant to contemporary or future emergency medicine (EM) practice (i.e., mandatory testing) and are included to clarify alternate terms. Further, future studies or reports of ED HIV testing may not include all or even the majority of elements described herein. Finally, the definitions were not developed with consideration of operational practices specific to postexposure situations and therefore do not necessarily pertain to HIV testing after blood or body fluid exposures.

The definitions are intended to have real or potential utility within the context of EM and may not be completely compatible with other healthcare settings. Where these definitions differ from what has been used previously, changes were deemed necessary to be responsive to the EM context. Despite these caveats, the consensus process included participants from a diversity of public health and healthcare backgrounds, and many of the clarifications contained herein may ultimately prove valuable to those involved with testing in other settings as well.

Several key terms deserve special comment.

  • The definitions differentiate between “testing” and “screening.” When referring to general processes where no distinction is being made, we chose to use the more general term “testing” as it relates to an HIV test being performed. However, the concepts of testing and screening are not interchangeable and are distinctly defined in this article (see Table 2).
    Table 2
    Consensus Definitions and Core Theoretical Constructs: Recruitment and Consent
  • The term “routine” was judged by consensus to be ambiguous and problematic. For example, “routine” can refer to either: 1) the selection of patients without respect to their acknowledged risk factors (i.e., nontargeted or universal selection criteria); 2) less-exceptional testing practices such as opt-out consent; or 3) both of these.14 As such, the term cannot precisely describe any specific process element. While potentially useful in a general sense to broadly indicate movements toward less exceptional testing, it is not included as a distinct term herein.
  • The term “informed” is not defined or tied by these definitions to the term “consent.” By consensus, it was deemed impossible to define “informed” in a manner that is consistent, precise, and free from significant controversy. However, the term “information” is defined. Consequently, the testing process may be understood in terms of the manner and content of information provided; whether any described process would result in the patient being adequately informed remains a matter of interpretation and local regulation.
  • By consensus, the term “written” was also sufficiently ambiguous to preclude precise definition and is therefore not included. “Written” has been used to refer to the format in which information was provided, the manner in which consent is documented, and/or who (patient or provider) documented the consent. Instead, components of information transfer are herein defined in terms of “preresult information” and “program regulations” and the term “signed” is used to indicate the patient’s written signature or mark (Table 2).
  • There was difficulty in selecting a single term to encompass the practice of screening patients without respect to their established risk (i.e., the alternative to targeted screening). The term “universal” is well-understood in perinatal screening and has historical precedent. However, it is possible that no EM screening program will ever succeed in universally screening all available patients. Recognizing this, it is entirely plausible that an ED would implement screening on a nontargeted basis without the expectation that all, or even most, of the available population would be screened. Indeed, there have already been several published examples of nontargeted ED screening programs that would not be accurately described with regard to intended or actual approach as “universal.”13,15,18,21 Ultimately, participants agreed that both terms should be defined. As such, while both terms refer to the nontargeted selection of patients, “universal” denotes the degree to which the process would be systematic and reasonably intended to be comprehensive, versus “nontargeted”, which refers to selection of any patient within the available population without respect to likelihood of infection but does not imply the expectation of comprehensive inclusion of every available patient (Table 2).
  • The consensus definitions do not include a detailed description of criteria that constitute targeted patient selection. This is in accordance with the pre-specified intent to avoid the provision of operational guidance; targeting practices and criteria remain in evolution. We have defined the terms “intended selection criteria,” “presumed selection criteria,” and “reasons test offered,” which will allow clear discussion and reporting of the criteria used in a given practice setting.
  • The definitions are intended to apply to registered ED patients, and the term “patient” is used throughout. The term “patient” is general and can refer to each registered visit by individuals to the ED or to a single person for whom there can be multiple ED visits. However, by consensus, the subset of outcomes and key summary measures (Tables 4 and and55 26,27) involving confirmed positive patients defines “patient” only in terms of unique persons and not ED visits.


By examining the diversity of factors relevant to the operation of ED-based HIV testing programs, the complexity and variability inherent in the process become apparent. The definitions provided in this article reflect consensus opinions provided by a convened group of ED clinicians and researchers, public health officials, HIV medicine clinicians, HIV advocates, and other groups. The purpose of the conceptual framework outlined here is to enhance translation of HIV testing to clinical practice by providing a common lexicon to aid interpretation of these programs and research efforts. A standardized nomenclature with which to describe implementation and research in ED HIV testing should facilitate and accelerate knowledge translation as institutions experiment and report on novel approaches to ED HIV testing.

Table 3
Consensus Definitions and Core Theoretical Constructs: Postconsent Program Methods


Dr. Lyons was supported by a mentored, patient-oriented career development award from the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID/NIH) K23 AI068453; Dr. Haukoos was supported by an independent scientist award from the Agency for Health Research and Quality (AHRQ) (K02 HS017526), a cooperative agreement from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) (U18 PS000314), and an unrestricted grant from Abbott Laboratories; Dr. Merchant was supported by a mentored, patient-oriented career development award from the NIAID/NIH K23 AI060363; Dr. White was supported by a cooperative agreement from the CDC (U18 PS000314); and Dr. Rothman was supported by a grant from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and a cooperative agreement with the CDC through a contract with the Agency for Health Research and Quality.

This first meeting of the National ED HIV Testing Consortium was funded by an unrestricted grant from Gilead Sciences, Inc., with organizational support from the Health Research and Educational Trust (HRET) of the American Hospital Association. The Consortium Conference was held at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, with the assistance of the Johns Hopkins Department of Emergency Medicine.


The following contributing authors attended the consensus conference and were included in the subsequent processes of manuscript review described herein.

  • Aldridge, Chris MD
  • Almond, Gregory MD, MPH, MS
  • Andrade, Roberto MD
  • Arbelaez, Christian MD, MPH
  • Archinard, Tommeka MD
  • Aronin, Steven I. MD
  • Barrera, Susan
  • Bateganya, Moses MD
  • Bell-Merriam, Joanna MD
  • Bongiovanni, Bob
  • Brady, Kathleen MD
  • Branson, Bernard MD
  • Brosgart, Carol MD
  • Brown, Jeremy MD
  • Cadoff, Evan MD
  • Calderon, Yvette MD, MS
  • Chaille-Arnold, Linda M. MD
  • Cheng, Ben MSc
  • Chiang, William MD
  • Copeland, Brittney
  • Cousar, Rosalyn L. RN, PhD
  • Couture, Eileen DO, MS
  • Czarnogorski, Maggie MD
  • Delgado, Kit MD
  • Erbelding, Emily MD, MPH
  • Feldman, James MD, MPH
  • Garcia, Osvaldo
  • Gaydos, Charlotte A. MS, MPH
  • Glick, Nancy MD
  • Gripshover, Barbara MD
  • Haukoos, Jason MD, MSc
  • Hayes, Alisa MD
  • Heffelfinger, James MD
  • Herrera, Laura MD, MPH
  • Hilley, Amy MPH
  • Holtgrave, David PhD
  • Hoots, Brooke MSPH
  • Hopkins, Emily SPH
  • Houry, Debra MD, MPH
  • Howell, Larry
  • Hsieh, Yu-Hsiang PhD
  • Hutchinson, Angela B. PhD, MPH
  • Jackson, Blanca RN
  • Jaker, Michael MD
  • Jones, Kerin MD
  • Jung, Juliana MD
  • Kampe, Linda BA
  • Kan, Virginia MD
  • Kass, Nancy ScD
  • Kelen, Gabor D. MD
  • Kroc, Karen BS
  • Kurth, Ann PhD, RN
  • Lampe, Margaret A. RN, MPH
  • Leider, Jason MD, PhD
  • Lemanski, Michael MD
  • Lindsell, Christopher J. PhD
  • Lyons, Michael MD
  • McGovern, Sandra RN
  • Mercer, Seth MD
  • Merchant, Roland MD, MPH, ScD
  • Miertschin, Nancy MPH
  • Miller, Joan
  • Mitchell, Patricia RN
  • Nelson, Sarah FNP
  • Onaga, Linda MPH
  • Paltiel, David PhD
  • Paul, Sindy M. MD, MPH
  • Pollack, Harold PhD
  • Raffanti, Stephen MD MPH
  • Randall, Liisa PhD
  • Rothman, Richard MD, PhD
  • Sabreen, Akhter DO
  • Sankoff, Jeffrey MD
  • Sasso, Vanessa
  • Saylor, Nathaniel Bernard MD
  • Schechter, Elissa MD
  • Schechtman, Barbara MPH
  • Schrantz, Steven MD
  • Scribner, Alicia MPH
  • Shahan, Judy RN, MBA
  • Skiest, Daniel MD
  • Spielberg, Freya MD, MPH
  • Stennett, Irijah S. PA
  • Sullivan, Patrick DVM, PhD
  • Teahan, Cathalene RN, MSN
  • Thompson, Susan
  • Torres, Gretchen MPP
  • Totten, Vicken MD
  • Wagner, Krystn MD
  • Walensky, Rochelle MD, MPH
  • Waxman, Michael MD
  • Weddle, Andrea
  • White, Douglas MD
  • Widell, Tom MD
  • Wilde, James A. MD
  • Wrenn, Keith MD
  • Yonek, Juliet

Gretchen Torres, MPP, of HRET, and Samantha Connell and Judy B. Shahan, RN, MBA, of Johns Hopkins University supplied extensive effort for meeting organization and facilitation of post-conference communication. The Center for Prevention, AIDS Administration Maryland Department of Health & Mental Hygiene provided discussion facilitators; Suzanne Kinsky, MPH, was highly instrumental in achieving comprehensive and open discussion during the conference. Chadd Krauss worked as a scribe for the discussion sections and assisted with compiling comments provided by participants. The authors acknowledge the support of the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine (SAEM) and their representative to the National Emergency Department HIV Testing Consortium, Dr. Debra Houry.

The authors additionally acknowledge the following organizations who contributed participants to the Consortium Conference:

American College of Emergency Physicians

Baltimore City Health Department

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

Georgia AIDS Coalition

Gilead Sciences, Inc.

HIV Medicine Association

Health Research & Educational Trust, American Hospital Association

Inova Juniper Program

Philadelphia Department of Public Health and Health Federation of Philadelphia

Society for Academic Emergency Medicine


All attendees from the 2007 conference are listed as contributing authors in Appendix A.


1. Rothman RE. Current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for HIV counseling, testing, and referral: critical role of and a call to action for emergency physicians. Ann Emerg Med. 2004;44:31–42. [PubMed]
2. Branson BM, Handsfield HH, Lampe MA, et al. Revised recommendations for HIV testing of adults, adolescents, and pregnant women in health-care settings. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2006;55(RR-14):1–17. [PubMed]
3. Baker JL, Kelen GD, Sivertson KT, Quinn TC. Unsuspected human immunodeficiency virus in critically ill emergency patients. JAMA. 1987;257:2609–11. [PubMed]
4. Kelen GD, Fritz S, Qaqish B, et al. Unrecognized human immunodeficiency virus infection in emergency department patients. N Engl J Med. 1988;318:1645–50. [PubMed]
5. Kelen GD, Bennecoff TA, Kline R, Green GB, Quinn TC. Evaluation of two rapid screening assays for the detection of human immunodeficiency virus-1 infection in emergency department patients. Am J Emerg Med. 1991;9:416–20. [PubMed]
6. Rothman RE, Ketlogetswe KS, Dolan T, Wyer PC, Kelen GD. Preventive care in the emergency department: should emergency departments conduct routine HIV screening? A systematic review. Acad Emerg Med. 2003;10:278–85. [PubMed]
7. Lyons MS, Lindsell CJ, Ledyard HK, Frame PT, Trott AT. Emergency department HIV testing and counseling: an ongoing experience in a low-prevalence area. Ann Emerg Med. 2005;46:22–8. [PubMed]
8. Schoenbaum EE, Webber MP. The underrecognition of HIV infection in women in an inner-city emergency room. Am J Public Health. 1993;83:363–8. [PubMed]
9. Alpert PL, Shuter J, DeShaw MG, Webber MP, Klein RS. Factors associated with unrecognized HIV-1 infection in an inner-city emergency department. Ann Emerg Med. 1996;28:159–64. [PubMed]
10. Kelen GD, Hexter DA, Hansen KN, et al. Feasibility of an emergency department-based, risk-targeted voluntary HIV screening program. Ann Emerg Med. 1996;27:687–92. [PubMed]
11. Kelen GD, Shahan JB, Quinn TC. Emergency department-based HIV screening and counseling: experience with rapid and standard serologic testing. Ann Emerg Med. 1999;33:147–55. [PubMed]
12. Goggin MA, Davidson AJ, Cantril SV, O’Keefe LK, Douglas JM. The extent of undiagnosed HIV infection among emergency department patients: results of a blinded seroprevalence survey and a pilot HIV testing program. J Emerg Med. 2000;19:13–9. [PubMed]
13. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rapid HIV testing in emergency departments–three U.S. sites, January 2005–March 2006. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2007;56:597–601. [PubMed]
14. Lyons MS, Lindsell CJ, Fichtenbaum CJ, Camargo CA., Jr Interpreting and implementing the 2006 CDC recommendations for HIV testing in health-care settings. Public Health Rep. 2007;122:579–83. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
15. Lyss SB, Branson BM, Kroc KA, Couture EF, Newman DR, Weinstein RA. Detecting unsuspected HIV infection with a rapid whole-blood HIV test in an urban emergency department. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2007;44:435–42. [PubMed]
16. Mehta SD, Hall J, Lyss SB, Skolnik PR, Pealer LN, Kharasch S. Adult and pediatric emergency department sexually transmitted disease and HIV screening: programmatic overview and outcomes. Acad Emerg Med. 2007;14:250–8. [PubMed]
17. Rothman RE, Lyons MS, Haukoos JS. Uncovering HIV infection in the emergency department: a broader perspective. Acad Emerg Med. 2007;14:653–7. [PubMed]
18. Silva A, Glick NR, Lyss SB, et al. Implementing an HIV and sexually transmitted disease screening program in an emergency department. Ann Emerg Med. 2007;49:564–72. [PubMed]
19. Barrett TW, Schriger DL, Haukoos JS, Hopkins E, Byyny RL. Denver Emergency Department HIV Testing Study Group. Patient acceptance of rapid HIV testing practices in an urban emergency department: assessment of the 2006 CDC recommendations for HIV screening in health care settings [editorial] Ann Emerg Med. 2008;51:310–11. [PubMed]
20. Haukoos JS, Hopkins E, Byyny RL. Denver Emergency Department HIV Testing Study Group. Patient acceptance of rapid HIV testing practices in an urban emergency department: assessment of the 2006 CDC recommendations for HIV screening in health care settings. Ann Emerg Med. 2008;51:303–9. [PubMed]
21. Brown J, Shesser R, Simon G, et al. Routine HIV screening in the emergency department using the new US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines: results from a high-prevalence area. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2007;46:395–401. [PubMed]
22. Merchant RC, Gee EM, Clark MA, Mayer KH, Seage GR, III, Degruttola VG. Comparison of patient comprehension of rapid HIV pre-test fundamentals by information delivery format in an emergency department setting. BMC Public Health. 2007;7:238. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
23. Calderon Y, Haughey M, Bijur PE, et al. An educational HIV pretest counseling video program for off-hours testing in the emergency department. Ann Emerg Med. 2006;48:21–7. [PubMed]
24. Gift TL, Hogben M. Emergency department sexually transmitted disease and human immunodeficiency virus screening: findings from a national survey. Acad Emerg Med. 2006;13:993–6. [PubMed]
25. Rothman RE, Merchant RC. Commentary. Ann Emerg Med. 2007;49:577–9.
26. Murphy G, Charlett A, Osner N, Gill ON, Parry JV. Reconciling HIV incidence results from two assays employed in the serological testing algorithm for recent HIV seroconversion (STARHS) J Virol Methods. 2003;113:79–86. [PubMed]
27. Taylor MM, Hawkins K, Gonzalez A, et al. Use of the serologic testing algorithm for recent HIV sero-conversion (STARHS) to identify recently acquired HIV infections in men with early syphilis in Los Angeles County. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2005;38:505–8. [PubMed]