Dr. Rodwick, HIV AIDS, transgender, hepatitis C, Clearwater, FL, AAHIVM, WPATH, testosterone, Sculptra

What to expect at your first office visit.


I just tested HIV positive. What should I look for in a health care provider?

If you are HIV-positive, you need a doctor. And not just any doctor-you need an infectious disease specialist who focuses on HIV. HIV is a complex disease with complex treatments, and only a doctor who specializes in its treatment can really keep up with the latest information.


You need a health care provider with whom you feel comfortable. You will be working closely with your health care provider to make many decisions regarding your treatment.


What can I expect at my first health care provider visit?


Your health care provider will ask you about your health and lifestyle, do a physical exam, and order blood tests. Your health care provider will also discuss what it means to have HIV and how it can affect your life. Your first visit is a good time to ask your health care provider questions.


What questions should I ask my health care provider?


Ask your health care provider about:
• The benefits and risks of HIV treatment
• How HIV treatment can affect your lifestyle
• Lab tests used to monitor HIV infection
• How to avoid getting other infections
• How to avoid spreading HIV to another person
Write down your questions so you remember them when you visit your health care provider.


What tests will my health care provider order?


You will have three very important blood tests at your first medical appointment: a CD4 count, a viral load test, and drug-resistance testing.


• A CD4 count is the number of CD4 cells in a sample of blood. CD4 cells are infection-fighting cells of the body’s immune system. HIV destroys CD4 cells, making it hard for the body to fight off infections. A CD4 count measures how well the immune system is working. A goal of HIV treatment is to prevent HIV from destroying CD4 cells.


• A viral load test measures the amount of HIV in a sample of blood. The test indicates how much virus is in the blood (viral load). A goal of HIV treatment is to keep a person’s viral load so low that the virus can’t be detected by a viral load test.


• Drug-resistance testing identifies which, if any, anti-HIV medications will not be effective against a person’s strain of HIV.

Your doctor may also order:

  • Complete blood count
  • Blood chemistry profile (including liver and kidney function tests)
  • Urinalysis
  • Tests for other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
  • Tests for other infections, such as hepatitis, tuberculosis, or toxoplasmosis

 


When will I begin HIV treatment?

Depending on the results of your initial tests, you and your doctor may decide that you don't need to go on medications right away. But you still need to see your doctor regularly. HIV-positive people who have not started taking medications should have a viral load test every 3 to 4 months and a CD4 count every 3 to 6 months. You and your doctor will use the test results to monitor your infection and to decide when to start treatment.


Starting HIV treatment is a big step. When to begin treatment depends on your health, your test results, and your readiness to take a combination of anti-HIV medications (a regimen) every day. Once you begin taking anti-HIV medications, you will probably need to take them for the rest of your life. So make sure you and your doctor discuss exactly what your regimen will consist of-how many pills, how often a day-as well as strategies to help you stick to your treatment.


Your health care provider will help you decide if you are ready to start treatment. (See the When to Start Anti-HIV Medications fact sheet.) Once you start treatment, your health care provider will help you find ways to stick to your treatment regimen. (See the Treatment Adherence and Following an HIV Treatment Regimen fact sheets.)


What happens if I don’t start treatment right away?


Depending on the results of your initial tests, you and your doctor may decide that you don't need to go on medications right away. But you still need to see your doctor regularly. HIV-positive people who have not started taking medications should have a viral load test every 3 to 4 months and a CD4 count every 3 to 6 months. You and your doctor will use the test results to monitor your infection and to decide when to start treatment.


 

Prior to your first visit with the physician, the office needs some information:

 

Medical History - almost everything about your health and factors that may affect it. This includes previous illnesses and surgeries, current health problems, current medications and vitamins/supplements that you may be taking, known allergies and/or bad side effects to medications, familiy health problems, alcohol, tobacco, and drug use (now and in the past), and living arrangements and support system.

Insurance Form - the details about your insurance and permission for the office to file insurance claims for you and to receive payment directly from your insurance company.

Privacy Practices - the policies that the office follows to keep your health information confidential.

Medical Release Form - authorization to obtain medical records and test results from previous physicians and facilities.

Advanced Directives - whether you already have these in place and who you have indicated to contact if you cannot make decisions for yourself. For more information on advanced directives, click here.

 

It is very helpful to complete this information before the first appointment in order to have a more efficient visit. These froms may be printed and brought with you to the appointment, or e-mailed to the office (if it works!). If they are not completed, expect to have an extended office visit while the critical parts of the information are collected.

 

 

 

How to Make the Most of Your Doctor Visit

Your first visit to an HIV doctor is the hardest. You may be so overwhelmed by your diagnosis that you can't even begin to think about what you should be asking. But you need to get off on the right foot. The point of this article is to help you get organized before you see your HIV doctor, so you can make the most out of the visit.

Here's a checklist of important tips:

LEARN AS MUCH AS YOU CAN ABOUT HIV BEFORE YOUR APPOINTMENT.

Don't expect your doctor to educate you about everything that there is to know about HIV during your visit - there just isn't enough time! The more you know in advance, the more efficient and productive your visit will be. You can learn about HIV from magazines, on the Internet, or by picking up informative pamphlets at your local ASO (AIDS Service Organization), health clinic or doctor's office. The more you know, the easier it will be to understand what your doctor tells you. It also helps you ask better questions.

BRING A NOTEBOOK AND A PEN.

Before your visit, write down the questions you have in a notebook. Take the notebook to your appointment, and also write down the doctor's answers! A doctor's appointment is a stressful experience - especially if it is your first as a patient with HIV! This is no time to rely on your memory. Rely on pen and paper instead. You might also bring a trusted, level-headed friend or family member to the appointment with you. That way, the two of you can compare notes later on.

BE HONEST.

You know it's not healthy to smoke, do drugs, drink to excess, or have promiscuous sex. So you're tempted to "forget" things you don't think your doctor wants to hear.

Don't do it! Your doctor is not there to judge you. He's there to help you. But he can only help you if he knows what is really going on. So tell the truth - the whole truth. Answer every question honestly, and don't even think about leaving anything out!

ASK FOR CLARIFICATION.

If you don't ask questions, your doctor will assume you understand everything perfectly and don't want any more information. So, by all means, speak up when you don't know the meaning of a word or when instructions aren't clear! Say, "I'm not sure I understand, could you explain that a little further?" It also helps to repeat what you think the doctor means in your own words, and ask if that's correct.

 

Take heart! Everyone goes through a whole series of wrenching emotions when they learn they are infected with HIV. But listen: It's not going to be as bad as you think! HIV is not a death sentence any more.

But it is a serious chronic disease that you have to keep under control! The first step is to make that first appointment with a doctor who specializes in HIV. Find out exactly where you stand, and what you need to do. And take it from there, one step at a time. You can do it!




 

   
The fine print: The content of this website is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as, nor should it be considered a substitute for, professional medical advice. Do not use the information on this website for diagnosing or treating any medical or health condition. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider.