Make the Most of Your Visit

For many people living with HIV or Hepatitis C, appointments with their infectious disease health care provider become a routine part of their life. These tips may help you better prepare for your visits to your HIV/Hepatitis C care provider and get more out of them:

Before Your Visit

  • Write down any questions you have before you go. For example:
    • How much experience do you have treating HIV?
    • What do my lab tests say about the health of my immune system?
    • How will you keep track of my immune system's health?
    • When should I start taking anti-HIV drugs?
    • What can I do to prevent complications, such as opportunistic infections, and stay healthy?
    • What are the signs that I might be getting an opportunistic infection or AIDS-related cancer?
    • How can I protect my sex partner(s) or injection drug partner(s) from getting HIV?
    • Are there certain daily habits I should change in order to help me stay healthy?
    • How much exercise should I aim for?
  • Make a list of your health and life goals so that you can talk about them with your HIV provider and how she/he can help you reach them.
  • Make a list of any symptoms or problems you are experiencing that you want to talk to your provider about.
  • Bring a list of all the HIV and non-HIV medications that you are taking (or the medications themselves), including over-the-counter medications, vitamins, or supplements. Include a list of any HIV medications you may have taken in the past and any problems you had when taking them.
  • Bring along 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 health information. It can also help your new provider have a better understanding of your health history.
  • Be prepared to talk about any changes in your living situation, relationships, insurance, or employment that may affect your ability to keep up with your HIV appointments and treatment or to take care of yourself. Your provider may be able to connect you with resources or services that may assist you.
  • Be on time. Most healthcare providers have full appointment schedules—if you are late, you throw the schedule off for everyone who comes after you. If you are late, there is a chance your provider will not be able to see you the same day.

During Your Visit

  • If your provider wants to run some lab tests during your visit, make sure you understand what the lab tests are for and what your provider will do with the results. If you don't understand, ask your provider to explain it in everyday terms. Typically, you will be asked to give a sample (blood, urine) during your visit and your provider's office will call you with your results in a few days. Keep track of your results and call your provider back if you have any questions.
  • Be honest. Your provider isn't there to judge you, but to make decisions with you based on your particular circumstances. Talk about any HIV medication doses you have missed. Tell your provider about your sexual or alcohol/drug use history. These behaviors can put you at risk of developing drug resistance and getting other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as well as hepatitis. Your provider will work with you to develop strategies to keep you as healthy as possible.
  • Describe any side effects you may be having from your HIV medications. Your provider will want to know how the HIV medications are affecting your body in order to work with you to solve any problems and find the right combination of medications for you.
  • Ask for a list of your upcoming appointments when you check out. Work with your case manager, if you have one, to develop a system to help you remember your appointments, such as a calendar, app, or text/e-mail reminders. We will text your cell phone to remind you of upcoming appointments and refill dates.

Asking Questions

It's important for you to be an active participant in your own health care and it's your right to ask questions. You may need to direct your questions to different people, depending on what you need/want to know:

  • HIV care providers (doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants) can answer specific questions about:
    • Your prognosis (how your HIV disease is affecting your body).
    • How to manage any symptoms you may be experiencing.
    • Medication issues, including medication changes, new medications, and how the HIV medications may interact with other medications you take.
    • Sexual health issues, including questions about any sexual symptoms you may be having, and how you can prevent or treat STIs, and how you can prevent transmitting HIV to your partner(s).
    • Family planning considerations, including your goals; birth control options for you and/or your partner, if relevant; your options for having children should you wish to do so; and, if you are an HIV-positive woman who is pregnant or considering getting pregnant, how you can reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to your baby.
    • Substance use issues, including how alcohol/drug use can affect your HIV treatment and overall health, and whether you should be referred for substance abuse treatment.
    • Mental health issues, including questions about any mental health symptoms you may be having, and whether you should be referred for mental health treatment.
    • Referrals for other medical issues you may be experiencing.
    • The meaning of lab test results.
    • The need for surgical procedures, if relevant.
    • Medication adherence strategies (tips for keeping up with your medication and ensuring you take it as scheduled and exactly as prescribed).
    • Any clinical trials or research studies that may be relevant for you.
  • Nurses and case managers often have more time to answer questions about what you discuss with your provider, particularly around:
    • Understanding your HIV treatment plan, including how many pills of each medicine you should take; when to take each medicine; how to take each medicine (for example, with or without food); and how to store each medicine.
    • Understanding possible side effects from your HIV medication and what you should do if you experience them.
    • Challenges you may have in taking your medications and/or keeping your medical appointments, and strategies for overcoming these challenges.
    • Resources to help you better understand lab reports, tests, and procedures.
    • Mental health and/or substance abuse treatment, housing assistance, food assistance, and other resources that exist in your community.
    • Insurance and pharmacy benefits, and other aspects of paying for care.
    • Understanding other medical conditions you may have.
    • How to quit smoking and resources that are available to assist you.