Four docs spill the goods on how you can get the most out of working with them
DO see the right doctor
The first rule of a good doctor-patient relationship: “See someone you feel comfortable with, whom you can talk to about anything,” says Theresa Mack, MD, of St. Luke’s–Roosevelt Hospital in New York City. Look for a doctor who stays up-to-date and who is willing to find answers. See “Looking for Doctor Right?" (below)
DON’T twist the truth
For many doctors, this is patient rule No. 1. “Some patients are afraid they may hurt my feelings, or that I wouldn’t be proud of them if they weren’t taking their meds regularly, or if their meds were making them feel bad,” says Lloyd Bailey, MD, of St. Vincent’s Midtown Hospital in New York City. Let your doc know if an abusive partner, a stressful work situation, a drug habit or even a broken fridge is interfering with your ability to care for yourself.
DO maximize your time
“If your doctor can’t spend 20 minutes with you, she has too many patients,” Dr. Mack says. Ask reception when the doctor is in less of a rush. “With some doctors, the best time is to be the first patient or the last patient of the day,” says Mack. Consider a clinic which is required to give a certain amount of time to each patient. “We have Ryan White funding, so our sessions have a 30-minute minimum,” says Ruth Greenblatt, MD, of the University of California–San Francisco Medical Center.
DON’T wait forever for appointments
“If it’s just a routine appointment, you should be able to get something within 24 to 48 hours,” says Dr. Mack. If it’s an emergency or if something is really bothering you, do NOT wait until your doctor is back from vacation. “Ask for the doctor who’s covering for your doctor,” Mack says. “Every practice has walk-ins for this reason.”
DO prepare and take the lead
“I recommend taking notes, writing down concerns and addressing them in the exam room,” says Dr. Bailey. Past providers may make your medical history available to your current provider, but it’s a good idea to keep all your medical records in a folder at home. Above all, take the lead. “Patients should make the interaction with their health care provider their own.”
DON’T focus on the Joneses
“I feel like people come in with these preconceived notions—‘I want to be on this med because all my friends are on it,’” says David Malebranche, MD, of Emory University Medical Center in Atlanta. “They may not be able to be on it. Treatment is a very individual thing.”
DO feel entitled
Many patients worry that being on Medicaid, Medicare or ADAP will bring them second-class care. Regardless of your insurance status, “you absolutely should expect good communication and a good doctor-patient relationship,” says Dr. Mack. And while the medical profession does have a history of racism, “you can’t expect every non-black provider to be racist,” says Dr. Malebranche. Dr. Mack agrees. “People say, ‘He talked down to me, so I’m not gonna take my meds, I’m not gonna go to my appointment.’” But who gets hurt in that equation? The patient. “Be vocal about how you’re treated,” Dr. Malebranche says. “But don’t let racism keep you from making healthy decisions.”
LOOKING FOR DOCTOR RIGHT?
The best referrals often come from other folks with HIV, or from care providers you like. You can also:
Ask the Academy The American Academy of HIV Medicine provides an online list of physicians specializing in HIV (www.aahivm.org; 202.659.0699). Or try the HIV Medical Association (email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 703.299.1215).
Ask An Empathetic Source
If you're African American and would like a doctor who is too, visit www.blackdoctor.org or call 312.222.1205. Most are listed as general practitioners, but many have experience with HIV.