Your first order of business after finding out that you are HIV positive is establishing a relationship with a health care provider.
Not only will you want to partner with someone who has experience treating people with HIV, you’ll also want to feel comfortable talking with him or her. Your relationship with your entire health care team will play a big role in your staying healthy.
Your main health care provider might be a medical doctor (MD) or doctor of osteopathy (DO), or possibly a physician’s assistant (PA) or nurse practitioner (NP). Nurses, social workers, nutritionists and pharmacists play roles too. But at the head of your health care team is you, and it’s important that you be an active player to ensure that you get the best possible care. To do this, you should feel that you can share any fears and questions you may have with the experts on your team. It also means learning about HIV and the ways that it’s treated.
“After I was diagnosed, I ‘shopped around,’ visiting various health care providers until I found one with whom I felt I could be open and honest,” says Regan Hofmann, editor-in-chief of POZ. “I knew that a big part of my provider’s ability to give me the care I needed would depend on whether or not I was able to communicate with him or her without fear or hesitation. For example, when one treatment regimen became hard for me to take, I immediately said something—and my doctor switched me to a regimen with fewer side effects and fewer pills. As a result, I missed fewer doses of my daily meds and avoided becoming resistant to the treatment.”
“The only thing that really helped me in the beginning was the
wonderful doctor I was recommended to. He is such a sweetheart and
cares so much about me.”
PICKING YOUR PROVIDER Finding an experienced health care provider is a must for everyone living with HIV. But it’s also important to find a provider who respects your needs and with whom you can speak openly and honestly. Finding such a provider is possible, but it may take some homework. A good place to start is the American Academy of HIV Medicine. They certify providers as HIV specialists and maintain a database of experts (aahivm.org). Case managers at your local ASO can also help. And remember: You’re the boss of your own care, so it’s OK to “interview” different providers until you find one with whom you feel comfortable. Questions to ask yourself when choosing a provider: • Do you feel comfortable discussing personal issues like your sexual behaviors or illegal drugs you may be using? • Is he or she respectful of your questions and concerns? • Does he or she take the time to explain things in a way that you can understand? • Is he or she connected to specialists—like dermatologists, mental health providers and nutritionists—and able to get you appointments with them?