Who Treats Individuals with HIV?
Treating HIV, like any chronic condition, is a team effort. You may need to seek specific primary care providers or HIV specialists, along with other professionals (both in the medical field and outside of it), to help you navigate this journey. Some common individuals involved in HIV care are outlined below; however, there are no right or wrong professionals to include in your care. Finding professionals that you are comfortable with and are able to see on a regular basis, regardless of who they are, is one of the most important aspects of your long-term health.
Healthcare professionals with experience in HIV care
There are several healthcare professionals that you may see in relation to your HIV care. An individual who is a “doctor” has either an MD or DO degree (doctor of medicine or doctor of osteopathic medicine). These individuals went to medical school and are licensed to practice medicine on their own. The MD or DO you see may be a family medicine doctor or general practitioner.
You can also see doctors who have specialized training. Infectious disease doctors are doctors who have received additional training in HIV care. There are also some obstetrician-gynecologists (OB-GYN) who may have experience and training with HIV care. However, your primary care provider does not have to be a doctor in the traditional sense. Nurse practitioners (NP) and physician assistants (PA) have additional graduate-level education and often see patients in primary care or other healthcare settings.1
Importantly, evidence has suggested that the more experience a provider has with HIV care, the better a person with HIV’s outcomes.2 While an infectious disease doctor will have a lot of training in treating conditions like HIV, other providers, such as family medicine or general practitioners, may have less experience. Regardless of what kind of provider you see, it’s never a bad idea to ask them what kind of experience they have treating HIV.
Your relationship with your healthcare provider is important and should make you feel safe and respected. If you are not completely satisfied with your provider, you don’t have to stay with them forever. You can start your treatment with one provider and change your care over to someone else that you feel better about later. The important thing is to start treatment as soon as possible and then build your ideal healthcare team after.1
Other professionals to include on your team
In addition to a primary care provider or specialist who leads your HIV care team, there are other professionals to consider including on your journey. Several of these include, but are not limited to:
- Mental health providers: Living with HIV can cause a lot of overwhelming emotions, fear, or stress. Seeing a mental health professional may help keep your mental and emotional health strong while you’re treating your physical health. Mental health professionals can come in many forms, from more informal counselors to specially trained physicians who can prescribe medicines called psychiatrists.
- Pharmacists: Treating HIV requires a lifelong commitment to medication, oftentimes multiple medications. Having a pharmacist on your team to answer any medication questions you have, including medication interaction questions, may be quite helpful.
- Nutritionists: Building up your physical health and being in the best condition possible to fight HIV involves paying attention to the food you’re eating. A nutritionist can help you create an eating plan that helps keep you feeling the best possible.
- Social workers: Life can be tricky at times, especially with a condition like HIV. Social workers can help solve day-to-day problems, provide information, set up transportation to appointments, ensure adequate housing, and more, to help make other aspects of life simpler, so you can focus on your health and treating HIV.
- Substance abuse specialists: In some situations, substance abuse, specifically intravenous drug use, may be involved in an HIV-positive individual’s life. Regardless of what the situation is, what substances are being abused, and the method of abuse, a substance abuse specialist can be utilized at any time if you are in need.1
What if I can’t afford all of these appointments?
Seeing multiple professionals can be expensive, especially if an individual has no health insurance or has a lower income. Fortunately, there are organizations that exist, some even specifically for individuals with HIV, to help provide quality care to those in need. Organizations like the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program helps individuals in the United States receive the care they need if they wouldn’t normally be able to afford it.
Additionally, each state has an HIV/AIDS hotline that can be reached to help coordinate affordable care. Cost should not be a factor in determining whether or not you seek medical or other professional attention for your HIV.