Youth between the ages of 13 and 24 account for over 20% of new HIV diagnoses in the United States but are the least likely age group to be HIV tested in healthcare settings including the emergency department. This is in part due to the fact that almost 50% of youth decline testing when offered. We elucidated youth patients’ perspectives on barriers to and facilitators of routine HIV testing of youth in an urban emergency department setting. Thirty-seven patients aged 13-24 years were recruited from the pediatric and adult emergency departments at a high-volume hospital in New York City from August 2019 to March 2020. Semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with all participants. Interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim, and transcripts were coded using an inductive thematic analysis approach. Youths’ main reasons for declining HIV testing when offered included low risk perception, privacy concerns, HIV-related stigma, and low levels of HIV-related knowledge. Participants’ responses suggested that HIV educational materials provided when testing is offered may be insufficient. Participants recommended providing additional HIV education and better incorporating HIV testing into the emergency department routine to increase testing among youth. Efforts are needed to help youth recognize their own HIV risk and increase their HIV-related knowledge. This may be accomplished by providing youth with additional educational materials on HIV, possibly via tablet-based interventions or other methods that may enhance privacy, combined with discussions with healthcare providers. Such efforts may help increase HIV testing acceptance among youth seen in the emergency department.
“I didn’t know what they’re gonna do to me: So that’s why I said no”: Why youth decline HIV testing in emergency departments