Finding a good doctor when you have HIV

Tuesday 12 May 2015

If you’re living with HIV, or you’ve just been diagnosed, a trusting relationship with you GP or HIV specialist is a key part of maintaining your wellness. The more comfortable you feel to share all aspects of your lifestyle with your doctor, the better they can help you.

My Fabulous Disease blogger Mark S. King had to say goodbye to his doctor. “I was moving out of state,” writes King on The Body.com, “and Dr. David Morris of Pride Medical Group in Atlanta had been nothing but a patient, supportive teacher to me. Over the years he's seen me through Hepatitis C, a few crystal meth drug relapses and three boyfriends. I love him and what he's done for me, and I hated the prospect of finding a replacement in Florida.”

Dr. Morris agreed to give King some tips to make things easier. King made a video (below) which shows him taking  his doctor’s advice. From medical records to being honest about his medical and lifestyle history, King used Dr Morris’ advice during his very first appointment with his new doctor, Dr. Dominic Riganotti in Ft. Lauderdale.

King shares six tips for choosing a new HIV doctor on his video. Things are a little different in NZ – there are a limited number of HIV specialists who can prescribe HIV medication (but no GPs) and, in some regions, there may be little or no choice. But his tips may still be useful for choosing a new GP for your general health needs:

  1. Interviewing a doctor is common, and ok (helps make sure you are a good match)
  2. Bring medical records and a summary page (so the doctor has all your information)
  3. Find out about their education and credentials (makes sure the doctor has training in the areas you need them for)
  4. Try to combine HIV and primary care (this ensures holistic health care but may not be possible in NZ because few doctors can prescribe HIV medication)
  5. Check hospital privileges (if you need to go to hospital, can the doctor be involved with your treatment?)
  6. Be sure you feel comfortable being honest (so you can disclose anything without feeling disrespected or judged).

King concludes, “If there is anyone in our lives for whom nothing is 'too much information,' it's our doctor. As a patient I used to be more hesitant disclosing private issues like my sexual habits or drug abuse history, but I got over it when I realized my doctor wanted to help me, not put me in jail.”

Our advice is, if you don’t feel comfortable with your doctor, talk to them and, if that doesn’t change things, find someone else.

There are some other simple things you can do which can make doctor’s appointments easier. Beforehand, make a list of questions that you want to ask so you won’t forget. Remember, you can always take a support person with you. Take a pen and paper to take notes of everything the doctor tells you. This helps you to have the information handy when you want to think through your options later. Ask the doctor how many times you will need to meet them and make your next appointment.

If you’re living with HIV and seeing a doctor for a non-HIV related condition, it is a good idea to disclose your status to them so that they can give you the right medicines and treatment. Anything you say to your doctor is kept confidential.

The NZAF network

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