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Patrick signs law to allow HIV test with verbal consent

Governor Deval Patrick signed into law Friday a bill that supporters say will provide greater access to HIV tests and bring Massachusetts into compliance with federal recommendations aimed at promoting more testing.

The measure reduces barriers to testing for the virus that causes AIDS by eliminating the need for doctors to obtain written consent from patients, and instead requires only verbal consent.

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The bill was crafted to bring Massachusetts in line with federal health officials’ 2006 recommendation that states update their laws to make HIV testing more routine and widespread. They suggested that general consent for medical care, which is the permission required for tests such as cholesterol screenings, should be considered sufficient for HIV testing.

“This bill will lead to more lives being saved,” Patrick said in a statement. “By removing barriers to screening, we will continue to decrease rates of HIV in our communities.”

But some physician groups said the law did not go far enough because the rules still require written informed consent from a patient each time information is released from a patient’s file pertaining to HIV.

Physicians say that creates barriers to treatment because if, for instance, a patient is being referred to another specialist, the physician must still obtain written consent from the patient before telling the specialist about any HIV-related medications that patient is taking.

Kay Lazar can be reached at klazar@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar.
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