Finding a Provider: Why It’s Important
After you are diagnosed with HIV, it’s very important to find an HIV care provider as soon as possible. HIV treatment has advanced tremendously in the past decade and with the proper care and treatment, you can stay healthy, live longer, and reduce the chances of transmitting HIV to others.
Who Provides HIV Care?
HIV care providers are medical professionals who work with you to manage your HIV care and stay healthy. Many providers will manage your primary health care needs as well. HIV care providers can include:
- Nurse Practitioners
- Physician Assistants
HIV care providers often work with a team of other healthcare professionals to ensure that you have the best care possible. Other important members of your HIV care team may include:
- Social workers
- Case managers and/or other health professionals
These team members will work with you so that you can stay as healthy as possible and live life to the fullest.
How Long Should You Wait Before Finding an HIV Provider?
Not long. Mounting scientific evidence has made clear the many benefits of starting antiretroviral therapy (ART) as early as possible. The sooner you find an HIV provider, the sooner you can start ART to stay healthy and reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to others.
Before starting you on ART, your HIV provider will want to review your health history, conduct a physical exam, and run some initial lab tests to evaluate your overall health and determine the stage of HIV disease in your body. These lab tests will help you and your provider determine the best treatment plan for you.
Locate a Provider Near You
Your HIV testing site can likely provide you with a referral to an HIV provider. Or, if you have a regular doctor, you can also speak with him or her about whether they can lead your HIV care or will refer you to a specialist they work with.
You can also locate an HIV provider using this locator:
Tips for Choosing a Provider
Here are some tips to keep in mind when choosing a provider:
- You may be referred to an HIV provider by your HIV testing site or your primary healthcare provider. If not, use the Locator above to find an healthcare provider who specializes in HIV care in your area. You can always change your provider later if they are not a good fit for you. The important thing is to get started.
- It’s important to remember that not all providers are specialists in HIV. It’s perfectly fine for you to ask your provider about his or her training or experience in treating people living with HIV. A good health care provider will not be offended if you ask.
- You are entitled to quality care for your HIV disease. Geography or funding may limit your choices about who your care provider will be, but you have a right to expect treatment from a competent and caring medical professional.
Helping Your Provider Help You
Here are some ways you can help your provider help you:
- Always be open and honest with your provider about things like:
- Medication—Have you missed any doses of your HIV meds? Have you taken them on time and as prescribed?
- Side effects—Are you experiencing any problems with your HIV meds? Have you noticed any changes in your body (e.g., fatigue, weight loss, diarrhea) that might be related to your HIV meds?
- Sexual activity—Are you having sexual contact? Are you protecting yourself and your partner(s)?
- Drug and alcohol use—Are you using illicit drugs and alcohol, and, if so, how much and how frequently? It is important for your provider to know about your substance use because drugs and alcohol may interact with your HIV medications.
- Bring information to go over with your provider. This includes:
- A list of any questions you may have about HIV disease, side effects, HIV medications, or other issues. During an appointment, it can be easy to forget questions you meant to ask. Your best bet is to write them down and show them to your provider. The Department of Veterans Affairs offers a list of sample questions you can bring with you. Remember: There are no stupid questions!
- Any information you may have gotten from friends, the Internet, or other resources that you’d like to discuss.
- A list of all the non-HIV medications you are currently taking (or the medications themselves), including nonprescription ones, like vitamins or other supplements (e.g., Omega-3 fish oil). It is important for your provider to know this information because interactions between different medications in your body can have serious side effects, or make some of your HIV medications less effective.
- A copy of your medical records, if you are seeing a new provider who does not already have them. You have the right to access your medical records and having copies of your records can help you keep track of your lab results, prescriptions, and other key information, and make sure they are complete and accurate. For more details on this, see the Information Is Powerful Medicine campaign site.
- Follow up on any lab tests your provider may order and get them done when your provider advises you to do so. Your lab tests need to be done on time so that you and your provider have the information you need to manage your care and keep you healthy. If you don’t understand what a lab test is for, ask your provider to explain it to you in everyday terms.
Be Prepared For Your Appointments
Here are some ways you can be prepared for your appointments with your HIV provider:
- Keep track of your appointments the same way you keep track of your other events or activities (phone, paper calendar, online calendar, etc.). If you are concerned about confidentiality, you can try using a code word or activity on your calendar instead.
- If possible, arrive a few minutes before your scheduled appointment time. A patient who is even 10 minutes late can radically disrupt a provider’s schedule. Remember—your providers want to give you all the time they possibly can, and it helps if you are there on time.
- Keep in mind you may have to wait when you arrive at your appointment. Providers don’t always have control over what happens in their office, and things can change rapidly. There may be someone ahead of you who has an emergency or needs extra attention that day. Be patient—you might be that person some time!
- Before you leave, ask when your next appointment will be and get a written or text reminder from the front desk. This will help you stay on track with your care and protect your health.
Always let your providers know when you are going to miss, reschedule, or be late to an appointment. If you have to cancel an appointment, always reschedule at the time you cancel! This will ensure that you don’t forget and that you continue to get the care you need to stay healthy.
Related Topics on AIDS.gov
- NIH AIDSInfo - Just Diagnosed – Next Steps After Testing Positive for HIV
- Department of Veterans Affairs - Work with Your Doctor
- HRSA - The HIV/AIDS Program: Clinical Care Protocols/Practices
Last revised: 03/25/2014