February 12, 2013
Michelle J. Sherman, R.Ph., A.A.H.I.V.P.
How you relate to the place where you get your HIV meds can have a huge impact on adherence to those meds. How do you find a pharmacy where HIV is a specialty? Read on and find out.
Whether you have just found out that you are HIV positive or you've been living with HIV for years, whether you are not on any HIV medications or you have been on HIV meds for years, this information is essential to helping you along in your journey with HIV.
Your Pharmacist is KEY, and selecting the right pharmacist and pharmacy is as important as choosing an HIV specialist physician. HIV medications are at the bull's eye of treatment strategies for HIV. The goal of starting or staying on HIV medications is to lower your HIV viral load, hopefully to undetectable, and to give your immune system (T cells, or CD4 cells) a chance to rebuild itself. Your pharmacist and pharmacy play a critical role in keeping you adherent with your meds, guarding against drug-drug interactions and advocating on your behalf.
Your relationship with your pharmacist and pharmacy is just as important as your relationship with your physician. When choosing your pharmacy, it is important to select a pharmacy that is an HIV specialty pharmacy. An HIV specialty pharmacy is a pharmacy where their main focus is on HIV disease. The staff has been trained in HIV and HIV-related issues and the pharmacists that work there are HIV Specialist pharmacists. At a traditional pharmacy, the staff and pharmacists are not HIV experts and very often they do not know anything about HIV, they do not keep the HIV medications in stock, and they are not sensitive to HIV-related issues.
Have you or someone you know ever been into a pharmacy where the staff was afraid to get close to you or touch you because they knew you had HIV? It sounds crazy and far-fetched, but it happens all the time. It is so IMPORTANT to shop around and find an HIV specialty pharmacy. A good HIV specialty pharmacy has compassionate, caring staff who are HIV sensitive and ALWAYS make you feel welcome and comfortable. They are also experts in dealing with HIV medicines.
The good news is that there are great HIV specialty pharmacies all over the U.S., and there may be one right in your neighborhood or local area -- you just need to pick the one that's right for you. Most HIV specialty pharmacies deliver or mail prescriptions to their clients, so if you can't find an HIV specialty pharmacy in your own neighborhood where you can just walk in and pick up your prescription, then you can use a pharmacy that delivers or sends your medications in the mail.
Friends and family members are sometimes the best source of information. They can provide information from personal experiences and are therefore quite reliable. HIV is an extremely sensitive issue, but if possible, it is always recommended to ask family and friends for information or referral.
Physicians will most likely have access to information on HIV specialty pharmacies; if not, they can always steer you to the right direction. Some physicians work closely with an HIV specialty pharmacy in managing their patients. Therefore, it is always recommended that patients ask their physicians for referral.
Another great source of referral are the local AIDS service organizations in your area.
You can always find local HIV specialty pharmacies by using Google. Go to Google.com and then type the following into the search tab: HIV Pharmacy [name of your city or county].
Here is an example: "HIV Pharmacy, Los Angeles." Once you then click on the search tab, it will bring up the HIV specialty pharmacies in Los Angeles. Those pharmacies with the highest rankings in Google will show up on the first page.
After you have done your Google search and found some HIV specialty pharmacies in your local area, check out their websites.
Read through the website and find out who they are, what is their philosophy. Also read through and find out what services they offer.
Once you have found some of the HIV specialty pharmacies in your local area, you can go onto some review sites such as Yelp.com, and see if there are any reviews for the HIV specialty pharmacies you are looking at.
Michelle J. Sherman, R.Ph., A.A.H.I.V.P., is a nationally recognized HIV specialist pharmacist practicing in Orange County, Calif.
Read Michelle's blog, Ask Your Online HIV Pharmacist.