The state medical society has gone on the offensive against Gov. William Donald Schaefer's tentative call for mandatory testing of health-care providers and patients.
The Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland -- the state medical society -- issued a statement yesterday reaffirming its .. long-time position against testing, calling it scientifically unnecessary and impractical.
"Any attempt to pass legislation mandating HIV testing for health-care workers and patients would not be based on scientific data surrounding the AIDS epidemic but would rather be a reaction to unfounded public fear," Dr. Fred A. Gill, chairman of the society's AIDS committee, said in a statement.
The society favors voluntary testing of doctors who perform procedures where there is a risk of transmitting the AIDS virus. Those who are found to be carrying the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS, would have to go before a panel of experts who would decide how to limit the doctor's practice.
Patients would not be told of a doctor's HIV status.
Schaefer this week said he would like to require tests for physicians and dentists, as well as patients, involved in so-called "exposure-prone" procedures. Schaefer acknowledged in an interview that the risk of contracting AIDS from a doctor is small, perhaps one in several million, according to definitive studies.
"Do you want to be the one?" Schaefer said. "No, you don't. My job is to prevent that one."
The federal Centers for Disease Control has found only one health-care worker -- a Florida dentist -- who passed on the AIDS virus to patients. Researchers have been unable to show exactly how the virus was transmitted in those cases.
"Physicians must educate their patients that transmission occurs primarily through sexual contact and IV drug use -- not by visiting their physician or hospital," Gill said.
Med-Chi, in its statement, noted that about three dozen health-care workers are believed to have contracted the AIDS virus from patients.
Schaefer is not wavering in his support for testing, according to spokeswoman Page Boinest.
"Doctors are worried about their safety and patients are worried about doctors," Boinest said. "[Schaefer] wants to erase the fear."
The General Assembly this year required Med-Chi, in consultation with the state health department and the Maryland Hospital Association, to develop an AIDS testing protocol. Med-Chi is expected to present its plan to the legislature in December. Schaefer administration officials are considering introducing a bill in next year's legislature requiring AIDS tests.
Critics have raised several questions about mandatory testing. For example, how often would you test doctors and patients to be sure they are AIDS-free? Who would pay for the tests?
Schaefer administration officials said they have not yet focused on such specifics.