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HIV Screening of Surgeons Probably Not Cost Effective, Study Suggests

HIV Screening of Surgeons Probably Not Cost Effective, Study Suggests

STANFORD, Calif--Screening surgeons for HIV to protect their patients would not be cost effective, compared to the cost of most accepted health-care interventions, says Dr. Douglas Owens, professor of health research and policy, Stanford University School of Medicine.

The finding calls into question proposals made by policy makers and others to require US health-care workers to be screened for HIV, says Dr. Owens, who led the study. Such proposals would generally bar those found to be infected from performing procedures that might expose patients to the virus.

The researchers analyzed a variety of data from the literature to assess the benefits and costs of such screening. The results showed that a one-time national screening program would find about 137 infected surgeons and prevent between 1.9 and 21.3 infections in their patients during the remainder of their surgical careers. The intervention would also prevent approximately 0.9 infections in the surgeons' sexual partners (Annals of Internal Medicine, May 1, 1995).

The cost of these benefits would be at least $8.1 million, or $458,000 per year of life saved. Dr. Owens notes, however, that health interventions considered to be cost effective usually cost between $10,000 and $100,000 per year of life saved.

"The message is that the risk of getting HIV from a surgeon is extremely remote and that screening surgeons to prevent such an unlikely event is not a wise use of public resources," he says.

Dr. Owens' colleagues in the study were Robert Nease, assistant professor of medicine, Washington University, and Stanford researchers Ryan Harris and Patricia Scott. Ms. Scott is now a medical student at Georgetown University.

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