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Won't Give Me HIV Test Results Over The Phone

Published: May 14, 2012
Dear TeenHealthFX,
I recently got tested for HIV. I didn't realize my results would be available so quickly so I left before I could get them. The doctors called me about a week later but said I needed to come in cause they wouldn't tell me over the phone. Is that bad? Could I have tested positive? I mean if I had it wouldn't they have called sooner?
Signed: Won't Give Me HIV Test Results Over The Phone

Dear Won't Give Me HIV Test Results Over The Phone,


TeenHealthFX can’t know why the office waited a week to call you with your results if they were ready the day of the testing, and we can’t know what this says about your test results. It sounds like there was certainly some miscommunication in terms of them clearly stating to you that you were having a rapid HIV test and should stay for your results. But after that, we can only speculate. Perhaps there was also miscommunication between the staff about whether or not you had been informed of your results and it took some time for them to realize you hadn’t been? If you have questions or concerns about how they handled the testing and result process, FX does think it would be appropriate for you to discuss them with your doctor when you go to the office to get your results.  

What FX can say is that the fact that they want you to come into the office for your test results rather than give you them over the phone is not uncommon and is nothing to be automatically alarmed about – it does not mean that your test results are definitely positive. FX doesn’t know where you got tested, but know that HIV testing clinics and anonymous testing sites generally do not give out HIV test results over the phone or through the mail. You must return in person to get your results whether the results are positive or negative. And if you were tested through your primary care physician, there are several reasons various test results would not be given out over the phone:

1.      The confidentiality of patients is a major concern for health professionals who have to follow what is known as HIPAA regulations. The HIPAA privacy rule provides national standards for protecting the privacy of health information, including how and to whom certain health information is given out. Health professionals tend not to give out personal health information over the phone because they have no way of knowing who is on the other end of the phone. Think of it this way – what if your doctor gave information of your test result over the phone and it happened to be your friend on the phone pretending to be you? Whether the test was positive or negative, your friend would now know you had an HIV test – perhaps something you wanted to keep private. By telling you your results face-to-face, the doctor knows for sure who he/she is giving the information out to.

2.      Even if the test is negative, many health professionals want to give the news to the patient in person for a couple of reasons. Going through an HIV test, even if the test result is negative, can be a frightening experience for some – and health professionals want to make sure that patients have the support they need and opportunity for any counseling if necessary. In addition, if a person was engaging in certain behaviors that put them at risk for transmission, even if the test is negative, health professionals will want to provide education about high versus low-risk behaviors so their patients can better protect themselves in the future.

3.      The test is positive. A health professional will want to meet in person if the test result is positive to explain further testing procedures (confirmation tests), to provide education about treatment and how to further prevent the spread of HIV, and to provide counseling to help the patient through his/her initial emotional reactions to the news.

FX can appreciate your anxiety about this situation – getting an HIV test and waiting for the results can be a nerve-wracking experience for many people. We suggest that you try to get to your doctor’s office as soon as possible so you can find out the results and not be left in this state of guessing, which can be extremely anxiety-provoking. We also recommend you bring someone with you to get the results. As mentioned above, even if your test is negative it can be helpful to have the support of a friend or family member when going through this kind of testing.  


A brief note about HIV tests:

Most HIV tests don’t actually look for the HIV virus itself, but rather look for the antibodies that indicate that HIV is present in the body. The most common HIV tests use blood to detect HIV infection. Tests using saliva or urine are also available. Some tests take a few days for results, but rapid HIV tests can give results in about 20 minutes. All positive HIV tests must be followed up by another test to confirm the positive result before an official diagnosis can be made. Results of this second test can take a few days to a few weeks.

Where can a person who is HIV positive get information about treatment?

CDC recommends that you be in the care of a licensed health care provider, preferably one with experience treating people living with HIV. Your health care provider can assist you with treatment information and guidance.

Detailed information on specific treatments is available from the Department of Health and Human Services' AIDSinfo.

Where can a person go for more information about HIV and HIV testing? Comprehensive Guide to HIV Testing

CDC: National HIV and STD Testing Resources

Planned Parenthood: HIV & AIDS

TeensHealth: HIV Testing Resources

emedicine health: HIV Testing

For more information on HIV/AIDS and HIV testing, contact the Centers for Disease Control National AIDS Hotline at (800) 342-AIDS (800-342-2437).

Signed: TeenHealthFX