After the HIV Diagnosis: Building a Relationship with Your Doctor
Tips to Talk to Your Doc about HIV
By November 20 53
Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist and educator who works primarily with individuals living with chronic medical conditions, as well as their families and caregivers. He has written extensively on health and body-mind-spirit topics, including a regular column on mental health in HIV Plus magazine. He maintains a website, JustGotDiangosed.com, with information and inspiration for newly-diagnosed patients.
Being newly-diagnosed with a chronic condition like HIV means building a relationship with your physician. Meeting with your physician more than you have in the past, as you and your doctor make decisions about the best way to manage your HIV. Talking about your daily health from a new perspective. Getting educated.
Consequently, it is important to maintain close communications with your physician to make sure that you are keeping him or her up-to-date on how you’re feeling, as well as asking all the questions that are likely to come up. Using some relationship management skills can go a long way toward helping you to get the best healthcare possible.
Partner with Your Doctor
Think of the healthcare system as another culture: Learn the language and the customs. Healthcare professionals have their own way of communicating, and the words they use may not always be clear to you. Phrases like ”presenting symptoms” may sound as if your symptoms are a gift. Suggestions may include medical shorthand that requires translation. Learn the common medical terminology around HIV so that know what your doctor is looking for when you have a conversation about your health. If you don’t understand what he or she is asking, or why they are asking it, just ask for clarification. Medical professionals typically want to establish a dialogue with their patients.
Be sensitive to your doctor’s key concerns, but don’t be afraid to speak up. HIV patients sometimes assume their physician is interested in certain types of symptoms, but not in other types. Or they’re afraid they will be annoying, or be labeled “high maintenance” if they bring up symptoms on their own. These concerns all add up to one-downing yourself, which means disempowerment. If you experience an unfamiliar symptom, or aren’t experiencing any progress with a new medication, then notify your doctor. Call now. Don’t wait for your next appointment. If your doctor doesn’t know what’s going in, he or she can’t help you. Be an active participant in your healthcare!
Think of your doctor as a professional, but not as your best friend. Each physician will have his or her unique personal and professional style. While it is common for patients to want to “love” their doctor, this can result in not only expecting an unreasonable level of emotional support your doctor can’t deliver on, but also avoiding the hard questions that we ask professionals but wouldn’t ask our friends. Be clear in your own mind that your doctor can most help you by doing the best job possible at treating your condition; that’s what he or she is there for. Don’t let your viewpoint be clouded by the unconditional love that we reserve for our friends. This doesn’t mean you need to shortchange yourself on emotional support — look to friends and mental health professionals when you need it.
Be an information-gathering partner with your doctor and share what you learn. Most likely, your physician is treating other conditions in addition to HIV and, while he or she is likely making an effort to stay on top of the latest treatments, you may come across some news that he or she isn’t aware of yet. If you do, then don’t hesitate to bring it up. He or she may already be aware but, on the other hand, may not. And if your physician isn’t open to patients who gather information on their own, maybe it’s time to remind your doctor that there is no “I” in team.
Do your prep work. Come prepared for your appointment, with a list of questions and concerns you want to discuss. Consider maintaining a journal between appointments, where you track your progress and note any changes. Record anything and everything that raises any concerns with you. You should review this before your appointment and highlight any issues you want to make sure you discuss. With a chronic condition like HIV, the clues to any may not be immediately obvious, but may jump out at you, when you review your day-to-day routine. As the saying goes, the devil is sometimes in the details.
Use your doctor’s time and your time wisely. This may mean relying some on your doctor’s support staff. Doctor’s offices and clinics often have certain times of the day, and days of the week, when they are busiest. Part of figuring out the culture in the land of your healthcare provider is to know what times to avoid. If you aren’t sure, you can ask when the person who manages the schedule. Find out if you can get any needed tests done before the next appointment, to avoid visits. It never hurts to ask. It can also be helpful to develop a relationship with the nursing staff at your doctor’s office — nurses are seeing the same patients as the doctors are, and can answer many of the same questions.
We live in the age of the empowered patient. Power yourself up to partner with your physician in managing your HIV!