Building a Relationship with Your HIV Healthcare Provider

Five strategies for finding the right healthcare provider, plus tips for getting the most out of your appointments.

Because treatment for HIV is a lifelong, ongoing process, establishing a good relationship with your healthcare provider is essential.

While there is no cure for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), there are treatments that allow people with HIV to live normal lives. HIV is treated with antiretroviral therapy (ART). These medications suppress the viral load—the amount of the virus in the body. The goal of treating HIV is to get the viral load to undetectable levels and keep it there.

Because treatment for HIV is a lifelong, ongoing process, establishing a good relationship with your healthcare provider is an essential part of the process.

Routine appointments

How often you see your healthcare provider will depend on where you are with treatment, how well treatment is going, and any other important factors related to your health, such as other conditions or other infections.

Most people with HIV will have an appointment with their provider several times a year (though during the first two years following diagnosis, appointments may be more frequent).

These routine appointments will include blood tests to measure viral load and other biomarkers that indicate treatment is working.

Appointments will also provide an opportunity to talk to a healthcare provider about how treatment is going—how you feel physically, your emotions and mental health, and any questions or concerns you have about treatment or your health.

Finding the right provider

Treatment for HIV is typically overseen by a primary care provider. This is the provider that will order tests and make your diagnosis.

A healthcare team may also include a variety of other healthcare providers—registered dietitians, mental health practitioners, case managers—who help you navigate the experience of living with and treating HIV.

Whether you are looking for a primary care provider or looking to add a member to your HIV healthcare team, here are some qualities you want to look for in a provider.

  • Ideally, you want to work with providers who specialize in treating HIV. At the very least, you want providers who have experience treating HIV.
  • You should feel comfortable talking to your providers. HIV impacts every aspect of a person’s life and getting the most from treatment sometimes requires talking openly and honestly about personal topics—such as sexual activity, substance use, and mental health.
  • You should feel that your healthcare providers are a source of support, that they work with you collaboratively when making decisions, and that your questions and concerns are taken seriously.
  • Your providers should accept your insurance coverage. The out-of-pockets expenses of medications, lab tests, and appointments can add up. You want to ease the cost as much as possible. Healthcare social workers and case managers can also help you navigate the finances of treating HIV.

Getting the most out of your appointment

Whether you are seeing a healthcare provider for the first time or are getting ready for a routine follow up appointment, you should take some time to prepare for your appointment.

  • Contact the office ahead of time and ask about any paperwork they need, including insurance paperwork and access to any prior medical records.
  • Take notes on how you are feeling, including any fatigue, how you are sleeping, your stress levels, and your moods and emotions.
  • Write a list of questions and topics you want to discuss, with the most important questions and topics at the top of the list.
  • Prioritize anything that prevents you from adhering to your treatment—for example, if you are having trouble taking medications on time, do not clearly understand the dosing instructions, or if the medications are too expensive.
  • Be honest about your lifestyle and habits—the foods you eat, how often you exercise, smoking. Your provider may ask about these topics or you may bring them up yourself, but they are important to discuss because they can impact your treatment and overall health.
  • Ask about other preventive healthcare that your providers recommend, such as vaccinations and routine screenings for other conditions.

While treating HIV can feel like a lot of work, remember that putting in the extra time and effort is essential to getting the most from treatment.

Article sources open article sources

MedlinePlus. "HIV/AIDS."
Office of AIDS Research. "HIV Treatment."
Ava Lorenc, Piriyankan Ananthavarathan, et al. "The prevalence of comorbidities among people living with HIV in Brent: a diverse London Borough." London Journal of Primary Care, 2014. Vol. 6, No. 4.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "People Coinfected with HIV and Viral Hepatitis." "Managing Your HIV Medical Appointments." "Laboratory Testing Schedule for Monitoring People with HIV Before and After Initiation of Antiretroviral Therapy." "Who Should Be on My Health Care Team?"
Office on Women's Health. "Finding your HIV care team."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Who should be on my health care team?"
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Talking To Your Patients." "Guidelines for the Use of Antiretroviral Agents in Adults and Adolescents Living with HIV." "Getting HIV Drugs in the US."
Amelia Jones and Greta Hughson. "Tiredness and fatigue." February 2017.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "ART Adherence."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Can HIV affect my diet and nutrition?"
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "HIV Infection and Adult Vaccination." "Do People Living with HIV Have Other Health Conditions?"

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