For HIVers, finding the right doctor is key—you’ll be making important, and sometimes very difficult, decisions together. These tips will help you in your hunt:
1. LOOK FOR AN HIV SPECIALIST. There is no accredited “HIV specialty,” but many of the best HIV doctors focus on infectious diseases or internal medicine. To find them, contact the American Academy of HIV Medicine (aahivm.org; 866.241. 9601) or call your local AIDS service organization (ASO), which you can find by calling 800.342.AIDS or searching the POZ ASO Directory.
“I feel I can tell my doctor anything that’s going on. She’ll always talk to me on the friend-to-friend level. If she finds out I’m not taking my medicine, she tries to find out why and tries to get me back on track.” —Marvelyn Brown, Nashville, TN, Diagnosed: 2003
2. INTERVIEW PROSPECTIVE DOCS. Before you commit, ask the following questions:
• “How many patients with HIV have you treated?” Studies show that HIVers tend to do best under the care of docs who have lots of experience with positive patients.
• “Are you aggressive with HIV treatment?” If you’re open to trying experimental or alternative options, a cautious doctor won’t be a good fit—and vice versa.
• “Who’s the boss, you or the patient?” Even if you like a take-charge doctor, he or she should listen to your concerns. Taking responsibility for your own health will give you an upper hand against the virus.
• “Can I call or e-mail you with questions between visits?” Availability is key.
“I remember being very grateful that my doctor was a friend of mine and was someone that I connected with. It made the information a little easier. I didn’t freak out as much.” —Joshua Sacks, Washington, DC, Diagnosed: 2004
3. TRUST YOUR FEELINGS. When you’re talking, do you feel listened to? Can you see yourself being totally honest with this person about gross bodily functions and personal issues like being depressed or missing doses? Listen to your gut—it doesn’t matter how brilliant your doctor is if the two of you don’t click.
4. BE YOUR OWN ADVOCATE. Good doctors love patients who are engaged and prepared. Start a treatment log where you can keep your pre-HIV medical history, copies of your lab reports, lists of your meds and supplements, and notes about symptoms and questions. Having all this info at your fingertips will help you get the most out of every office visit.
“[I was looking for] a place that wasn’t homophobic. I wanted to deal with a gay-friendly staff. There are some people that I know from groups that I don’t want to bump into so I’d rather go somewhere far from home.” —Rafael Lopez, Bronx, NY, Diagnosed: 2003