Bridging the gap with your health care team can seem like a daunting task. After all, they are the experts who spent years of life in school and have all the answers. Right? It’s natural to sense an us vs them mentality however this is not how the relationship should function. As the old saying goes there is no “I” in team and this is especially true in the world of health care.
Each individual member of your health care team has a unique role. From you the patient to the doctor, nurses, and medical assistants. Similar to a recipe, one cannot expect the finished product to come as desired if any ingredients are missing or not mixed together properly.
Here are 5 valuable tips I have found helpful in my time living with HIV and it’s my hope they can be useful to you as well. Since we live with HIV we tend to find ourselves at the doctor a tad more than our HIV negative counterparts. By taking these simple steps we can make the most out of our experience and continue to strengthen the physician – patient relationship.
1. Find a doctor that is a good fit for you
This may seem like a no brainer but believe it or not I have many HIV positive friends who stay in care with a doctor with whom they just don’t click. It’s more than just looking at a doctor’s experience in the field of HIV.
Maybe you prefer a male or female doctor? Possibly you would like a doctor who is older or maybe younger? Depending on your sexual orientation you might also choose a doctor that is LGBTQ friendly. Do you prefer someone who is more hands on or someone who is more laid back?
An HIV specialist should be someone that cares about you in the fullest sense and utilizes integral care to focus on both your physical and mental health. They are someone who listens, is punctual, has a good bedside manner, and has your best interest at heart as a person; not simply as another patient on his or her list of daily appointments. Although it may take time to find the physician right for you, when it’s all said and done, it will be well worth it.
2. Build trust and understanding
Any relationship in life requires trust and this particularly rings true for the connection that doctors and patients build together. Although it can take time to build; it starts with an honest and open conversation with your physician. HIV is often a subject that involves topics sexual in nature and ones that understandably you do not discuss outside of the bedroom. It’s important to know your privacy and confidentiality are protected by HIPPA laws and that your doctor doesn’t need to know this information to pry or make you feel uncomfortable; but rather to provide you the best care possible.
"You can talk to anything with a good friend because you have that trust built. The same goes for your HIV specialist. They are a non biased third party and if they are not, get a new one."
It doesn’t mean you need to give over your black book of hook ups throughout the years or go into vivid detail of every sexual act you have ever engaged in however you should reach the point where you feel comfortable in talking with your doctor about your sexual health.
Take it a step at a time, however after awhile, it’s been my experience that it becomes much like a friendship. You can talk to anything with a good friend because you have that trust built. The same goes for your HIV specialist. They are a non biased third party and if they are not, get a new one.
It’s not just a one way street either where you spill the beans and are left feeling empty. Take some time to get to know your doctor. It doesn’t mean that you need to know their favorite color or who they rooted for in the last Super Bowl but even a quick minute spent together talking can make a big difference. It continues to help bridge that gap and sense of awkwardness that one naturally feels when visiting their physician. Doctors are people too and we often forget that.
3. Ask questions
Have you ever left your doctors office with more questions than answers? Did you have questions in mind you wanted to go over in the appointment but somehow along the way you didn’t get to them? Well, this tip is for you.
It’s vital that you ask questions. It helps me to have a list written down and that way I can go through them one by one with the doctor. I liken it to a job interview that much to people’s surprise, should be more like a conversation rather than a one person monologue. Don’t be embarrassed to ask or fall into a thinking trap but take the leap and let the words flow out. Chances are you aren’t the first person that has ever asked the same thing.
4. Get to know your support staff
The first person you see when you go into your HIV specialist’s office is most likely not the doctor. It may be a medical assistant, nurse, or other healthcare professional who’s duty is to assist the doctor. Since you will be dealing with them on a regular basis whether it be setting an appointment, requesting lab work results, or relaying messages to your doctor; take a moment to build a relationship with them as well. There is a lot of behind the scene work done by them that you don’t necessarily see but building connections with them is important if you want to get the most of the relationship with your healthcare team.
5. Become your own patient advocate
We have to become patient advocates because we are in control of our own health, not our doctor. This starts with educating ourselves about what we are up against. It doesn’t take a biology major or rocket scientist to understand the basics. Your doctor can help educate you and if you do your own research as well, then you are setting yourself up for success. www.thebody.com has some great resources and even a Q&A section that can help you learn more about HIV.
Advocating for yourself doesn’t necessarily mean taking an aggressive approach but rather an assertive one. I learned this practice myself a couple years ago due to my personal experience with the debilitating side effects of a certain HIV medication. Although it worked great numbers wise, I could no longer take the negative impact on my quality of life. I demanded a change from my doctor and assured him after over a year of trying to let my body adjust, it was now time to try something new.
Engaging with your doctor and using effective communication to address your concerns is going to help you both in the short and long run. We don’t just let doctors treat us. We have to teach them how we want to be treated.
This article previously appeared in Joshua’s own blog PozitiveHope here.