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How To Choose An HIV Doctor


There are five steps to choosing an HIV doctor:

Step 1: Decide whether the doctor will be your primary care physician as well as your HIV doctor.

  • Many people use their HIV doctor as their primary care physician, particularly if uninsured.
  • While we haven't seen any studies that indicate whether patients have a better outcome is there is an HIV doctor and a primary care doctor, it is prudent to have both if possible. Things happen that are not HIV related. A primary care physician may be more likely to catch another condition early. An HIV doctor tends to relate all symptoms to HIV and HIV related health conditions. 

Step 2: Set criteria that work for you.

In addition to your own criteria, common wisdom is that you'll have the best outcome if your HIV doctor:

  • Is board certified. Certification by the American Board of Medical Specialties certifies that a doctor has completed training and passed an exam in a particular specialty. You can find a list of Board Certified doctors at offsite link
  • Is known for treating a lot of people with HIV and has a good success rate.
  • Is up-to-date on the latest HIV research and practical results. Some patients with HIV, particularly in urban areas, look for doctors who participate in clinical trials on the theory that they are the most likely to be up-to-date.
  • Is someone you trust.
  • Has an affiliation with a high quality hospital that has a lot of success with people with HIV disease.

Expertise matters more than location. However, there will be times when you are likely to see your HIV doctor on a regular basis. Convenience helps. When you believe it is warranted, you can seek a second opinion from a doctor who is not convenient to where you're located -- by video conference if necessary. Video conferences can even be conducted through your own computer or your smart phone. (If you do travel, learn how to safely in Travel.)

We haven't seen any studies on whether a doctor's bedside manner related to outcomes. It's up to you whether bedside manner is important or not. Keep in mind that until there's a cure for HIV, you and the doctor will have a long term relationship.

Step 3: Search for doctors that most closely fit your criteria.

  • Start by looking at the list of doctors who contract with your health plan. If you don't find what you need in the most recent lists you've been sent, check your insurer's web site to see if there have been additional doctors added. Unless you have the money to go outside of your insurer's list ("out of network"), you may have to compromise your criteria.
  • To learn more about specific doctors, ask your other doctors, friends and people who have the same health condition. There are also web sites that provide information about doctors (including disciplinary information).
  • NOTE: 
    • It may be helpful if your primary care physician and your HIV doctor are part of the same practice. They may be more likely to keep each other to date. However, it is still your responsibility to be sure that all your doctors know about changes in your health, treatment and/or medications. To learn more, see: A System For Keeping Your Doctors Up To Date.
    • If you decide to go to a doctor who is not in your insurer's network, consider negotiating a discount. Studies show that 60% of patients who negotiate get charged less. You can learn reasonable prices for medical services at your insurer's web site or by calling the company. Steeper discounts are usually given for paying cash. (See: How To Minimize Out Of Network Costs)

Step 4. Speak with the doctor's office to gain practical information.

  • When you speak with the office staff you'll be able to learn such things as whether the doctor takes new patients, takes your insurance, office hours and how long it takes to get an appointment. If there is a long time lag for initial visits, a doctor can help you get an appointment sooner than you could on your own. (See:How To Interview The Office Staff)
  • Also keep in mind that HIV is unpredictable and you may need to see your HIV doctor on short notice even though the situation may not be a classic emergency. Find out how the doctor takes care of such situations, including if they happen outside normal office hours.

Step 5: Meet with the doctor.  No matter how good a doctor seems on paper, you won't know your response to the doctor until the two of you meet, especially whether you trust him or her. This is the doctor who will be your doctor for a long time and who responsible for suggesting your treatment. If history is any indication, your treatment will keep changing over time.

Once you have the information in place, trust your instincts.

For additional information, see:

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