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Finding and Working with a Doctor

Finding and Working with a Doctor

This is an excerpt from There is Hope: Learning to Live with HIV, 2nd Edition, written by Janice Ferri, with Richard R. Roose and Jill Schwendeman, a publication of The HIV Coalition.

Finding a Doctor

As a person living with HIV or AIDS, you face an enormous challenge: keeping yourself as healthy as possible for as long as possible. To do that, you'll need to take a very active role in managing your illness. Once you've "taken charge" of the situation, you can begin to assemble a health care team that meets your personal standards for treatment and care.

You might assume the first step in this process is finding a doctor-but in reality, that's not enough. To have a real fighting chance, you'll need to find the right doctor for you. Your ultimate goal is to build a comfortable, ongoing relationship that will provide the foundation of your medical attack.

Coping with an Insensitive or Rejecting Doctor

You may choose to continue with your current physician or find an HIV specialist to work with your present doctor. Some physicians may resist caring for HIV-positive patients because they don't feel comfortable dealing with the complexities of the virus. This is a relatively new disease, treatments can be toxic, and recommended therapies are constantly being updated. Your physician may want you to go to a more informed and experienced colleague. (Remember, it's in your best interest to go to an M.D. with experience.)

If, however, you feel you've been denied treatment or illegally discriminated against, and you need a constructive way to channel your hurt and frustration, write a letter detailing your objection to the doctor's behavior. Send copies to the doctor, his specialty's medical society, and the chief of staff at the hospital or clinic he's affiliated with. (Save a copy for your own records.) You can also complain to an attorney, or:

The Illinois State Medical Society
20 North Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60610

Then, let go of your anger and move on to more important issues-namely, you and your care! There's no point in trying to force a reluctant doctor to work with you. It's a waste of time and energy, and unlikely to result ineffective (or pleasant) care.

Why You Need an HIV Specialist

Even if your current doctor is extremely supportive, you'll still want to evaluate whether she or he is the best choice to help you deal with this new threat to your health. Some people with HIV go on seeing their "regular doctor" for the sniffles and such, but work with a specialist to monitor their immune system and treat HIV-related conditions as they arise. If you decide to stick with your regular doctor, you'll want to make sure that she or he knows enough to spot HIV warning signs and refer you for treatment when necessary. (More than half of all HIV patients in the Chicago area are cared for by family practice M.D.s.)

Characteristics of the "Ideal" HIV Specialist

The "ideal" HIV specialist is a licensed physician who:

  • is board-certified in family practice, internal medicine, infectious diseases, or a related specialty.
  • has ample experience treating people living with HIV and AIDS (though it's not necessary that she or he treats these people exclusively);
  • is more of a "hands-on" practitioner than a researcher.
  • keeps up-to-date on the latest standard of care (and encourages you to do the same).
  • is open-minded, willing to listen, and follows your lead in terms of how actively you wish to be involved and how aggressively you want to fight your disease.
  • is connected to a network of other specialists and willing to consult with them or refer you when necessary.
  • will help you explore supplemental therapies and participate in clinical research trials, if you desire.
  • encourages you to ask any question on any issue at any time, and answers in language you can understand.
  • is sensitive to your particular lifestyle concerns and doesn't attempt to judge or change you.
  • is sensitive to any addiction/abuse history you may have, and will openly work with you on recovery-sensitive prescribing and lifestyle options.
  • has a reasonable patient load so that you are not always kept waiting for appointments and don't feel rushed.
  • makes sure your medical records are kept confidential.
  • has a personality and "bedside manner" that makes you feel comfortable and secure.
  • has an optimistic attitude toward HIV infection and does not consider the disease to be inevitably fatal.
  • is interested in you as a complete human being-a person, not a case or clinical problem.
  • respects your wishes regarding life support and living wills.
  • is reasonably flexible about payment schedules, in case you have trouble paying your bill. If the doctor will accept delayed payment direct from your insurance company, so much the better. If you don't have insurance, you may be able to negotiate lower fees for some services. If you have Medicaid, make sure in advance that the doctor accepts it.

Finding the Right HIV Specialist

You can get names of doctors qualified and willing to treat people with HIV and AIDS from various sources, including:

  • recommendations from other people living with the disease. Support groups are an excellent place to hear the straight scoop on area doctors from people who've already screened or had experience with them.
  • local AIDS service organizations.
  • ads in local gay and lesbian publications such as the Windy City Times, Outlines, and Gay Chicago magazine.

Streamlining Your Care

You may find you need a variety of medical and non-medical services. Maybe you have children, or more than one member of your family is HIV-infected, or you have day-to-day matters you want help with. Whatever your situation, it can get tricky and exhausting to run all over town taking care of your business.

When deciding on a doctor or clinic, it's a good idea to ask if other types of services are provided besides medical care. Some clinical care providers offer other kinds of care on site, which can make things easier for you. For instance, Cook County Hospital's Women and Children's clinic offers a "one-stop shopping" approach, where you can get several types of services in one place--including specialized medical care for you and your children, clinical drug trials, support groups, counseling, help with practical problems such as housing, insurance, or entitlements, and chemical dependency treatment. Other programs also offer useful combinations like these. Besides saving you valuable time and energy, choosing a "one-stop" care facility will help to assure that you actually do take care of all the things you need to. Multidisciplinary HIV services provided in a single setting also are likely to be delivered with a higher level of expertise and sensitivity. The staff is apt to see more of the total HIV picture, rather than just pieces of it.

If child care, transportation, or other matters are obstacles for you in getting the care you need, talk with your doctor to see if the clinic you visit can offer any help.

1. Physician Referral Services in Chicago

AIDS Foundation of Chicago
411 South Wells
Chicago, IL 60607
312-642-1190-Hearing-impaired TTY/TDD

  • Case management coordination, information and referral service. Provides funding for HIV care and education programs in community-based agencies. The Foundation advocates for sound HIV-related public policy and increased support for HIV care and prevention efforts. Bilingual.

Chicago Medical Society
515 North Dearborn Street
Chicago, IL 60610
312-670-2550-Tel-Med line

  • Free physician referral service for HIV/AIDS. Health information to consumers through Tel-Med line. Confidential and bilingual.

DuPage County Medical Society
498 Hillside
Glen Ellyn, IL 60137

  • Free physician referrals.

Gay and Lesbian Physicians of Chicago
PO Box 14864
Chicago, IL 60614

  • Referral service for gay- and lesbian-friendly physicians. Free.

800-DOCTORS (362-8677)

  • Hospital-sponsored physician referral service for HIV-impacted individuals. Also has names of licensed psychotherapists, clinical social workers, chiropractors, optometrists, podiatrists, nutritionists, dentists, oral surgeons, and physical therapists in your area.

2. Chicago Hospitals and HIV Clinics

Some local Illinois hospitals offer other HIV-related services (like home health visits, hospice care, and support groups) in addition to inpatient and outpatient medical care. Ask for details when you call. (If the Physician Referral Department isn't aware of these alternative programs, ask to speak with someone in Pastoral Care.)

Alexian Brothers Medical Center
800 Biesterfield Road
Elk Grove Village, IL 60007

  • Infectious disease doctors experienced in treating HIV/AIDS.

Children's Memorial Hospital
2300 Children's Plaza
Chicago, IL 60614

  • HIV counseling and testing, clinical trials, in-/outpatient medical care, outpatient medical/OB-GYN care for mothers of HIV-positive children, multi-disciplinary medical team with referral to specialty clinics as needed. Public Aid accepted. Bilingual.

Children's Memorial Hospital--Hemophilia Treatment Center
2300 Children's Plaza
Chicago, IL 60614

  • Manages children with hemophilia and other coagulopathies.

Columbus Hospital
2520 North Lakeview
Chicago, IL 60614

Cook County HIV Primary Care Center
1835 West Harrison Street CCSN 1268
Chicago, IL 60612

  • Provides medical care, HIV counseling and testing, education and prevention programs. Information, case management, substance abuse and mental health treatment, pastoral care, clinical trials, housing referrals, financial assistance, food and transportation assistance. Offers legal assistance through AIDS Legal Council's on-site project. Free. Bilingual.

Cook County Hospital
1835 West Harrison Street
Chicago, IL 60612

  • Inpatient care for people with HIV/AIDS. Outpatient clinics for HIV care.

Cook County Hospital Women and Children's HIV Program
1835 West Harrison Street CCSN 1200
Chicago, IL 60612

  • Provides inpatient and outpatient care for HIV-positive adults and children, including chemical dependency counseling and clinical trials. Educational counseling, peer education and training on HIV/AIDS for adults and adolescents, as well as psychosocial services and legal assistance. On-site child care available.

Evanston Hospital
2650 Ridge Avenue
Evanston, IL 60201

  • Inpatient medical treatment for HIV/AIDS patients.

Family Center for Immune Deficiency (FCID)
840 South Wood Street
Room Red-5
Chicago, IL 60612

  • Outpatient clinic of the University of Illinois Hospital for adults and children with HIV/AIDS. Clinical trials, adult support group, social services, and nutrition assistance.

Good Samaritan Hospital
3815 Highland Avenue
Downers Grove, IL 60515

Good Shepherd Hospital
450 West Highway 22
Barrington, IL 60010

  • Inpatient medical care and pastoral care services.

Holy Family Hospital
100 North River Road
Des Plaines, IL 60016

  • Inpatient and home care; support group referrals.

Illinois Masonic Medical Center
836 West Wellington Avenue
Chicago, IL 60657

  • Inpatient medical care with special HIV/AIDS unit and hospice.

Lake Forest Hospital
66 North Westmoreland Road
Lake Forest, IL 60045

Loyola University Medical Center
2160 South First Avenue
Maywood, IL 60153

  • Offers medical and other services for persons with HIV.

Loyola University Medical Center HIV/AIDS Clinic
2160 South First Avenue
Maywood, IL 60153
708-216-5024, or

  • Primary medical care of adults with HIV infection, including social services/case management, nutritional assessment, and HIV counseling and testing. Referrals for dental, mental health, substance abuse, and home health services. Sliding scale fees. Bilingual.

Lutheran General Hospital
1775 Dempster
Park Ridge, IL 60068

  • Medical care for adults and children with HIV. Outpatient care provided at Nesset HIV Center.

Memorial Medical Center
800 North Rutledge
Springfield, IL 62702

  • Inpatient HIV services. Associated with the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.

Michael Reese Hospital and Medical Center
2929 South Ellis Avenue
Chicago, IL 60616
312-791-2050, ext. 0307

  • In/outpatient care, men's HIV support group, nutritional counseling, psychotherapy, drug study participation. Sliding scale fees. Public Aid accepted.

Nesset HIV Center
1775 Ballard Street
Park Ridge, IL 60068

  • Primary-care facility of Lutheran General Hospital for persons living with HIV/AIDS in northern Cook County. Offers nutritional assessments and support groups. Sliding scale fees. Bilingual.

Northwest Community Hospital
800 West Central Road
Arlington Heights, IL 60005

  • Basic inpatient medical services for HIV-positive adults and children. Support groups for HIV-infected persons, families, friends, and caregivers.

Northwestern Hemophilia Treatment Center
345 East Superior Street
Suite 1407
Chicago, IL 60611

  • Primary care, nursing care, social services, newsletter, and workshops for hemophiliacs with HIV and their partners. Also offers nutritional and psychosocial counseling, dental and genetic referrals. Public Aid accepted. Bilingual.

Northwestern Memorial Hospital
250 East Superior Street
Chicago, IL 60611

  • Inpatient care for HIV-positive individuals.

Northwestern Memorial Hospital HIV Center
303 East Superior Street Passavant 8E
Chicago, IL 60611

  • Wide range of medical services, including clinical trials. Set fee.

Oak Forest Hospital
15900 South Cicero Avenue
Oak Forest, IL 60452
708-687-7200, ext. 2726

  • Inpatient chronic disease care, acute care, rehabilitation, psychological and spiritual support. Public Aid accepted. Bilingual.

Rush Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center
1653 West Congress Parkway
Chicago, IL 60612

  • Inpatient medical care, clinical trials, pastoral care. Also offers HIV/AIDS education and information.

St. Francis Hospital of Evanston
355 Ridge Avenue
Evanston, IL 60202

  • Inpatient and outpatient medical care for persons with HIV/AIDS.

St. Joseph Hospital
2900 North Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60657

  • In/outpatient medical care for adults with HIV. Multidisciplinary team includes physicians specializing in HIV treatment, access to clinical trial drugs, comprehensive social services, counseling and support groups, and HIV education/risk reduction program.

St. Joseph Hospital
77 North Airlite
Elgin, IL 60123

St. Therese Medical Center
2615 Washington Street
Waukegan, IL 60085

Sherman Hospital
934 Center Street
Elgin, IL 60120

  • Basic inpatient medical services, HIV counseling and testing, and referrals.

Southern Illinois University School of Medical Clinics
751 North Rutledge
Springfield, IL 62702

  • Outpatient clinic with HIV specialists available.

University of Chicago Hospitals
5841 South Maryland Street
Chicago, IL 60637

  • HIV testing and inpatient/outpatient medical care for persons with HIV.

University of Illinois Hospital
1740 West Taylor
Chicago, IL 60612

  • Inpatient care for persons with HIV/AIDS. Outpatient care available at Family Center for Immune Deficiency.

Veterans Administration Medical Center--North Chicago
3001 Green Bay Road
North Chicago, IL 60064

  • Services for eligible veterans including day and respite care, educational programs, financial and public assistance, medical care/clinics, long-term care, substance abuse treatment, housing/shelter, mental and emotional support, and HIV counseling and testing.

Veterans Affairs Department--Edward Hines V.A. Hospital
5th Avenue at Roosevelt Road
Hines, IL 60141
708-343-7200, or

  • Inpatient/outpatient medical care, case management, clinical trials, dental care, education programs, financial assistance, home health care, hospice, long-term care facility, mental health and emotional support, substance abuse treatment programs, pastoral care and HIV testing for eligible veterans.

Victory Memorial Hospital
1324 North Sheridan Road
Waukegan, IL 60085

Wyler Children's Hospital of the University of Chicago
5841 South Maryland Avenue (MC 6054)
Chicago, IL 60637

  • Services for HIV-infected children and teens include a pediatric clinic for comprehensive medical care, perinatal/ women's services through OB/GYN department, case management, clinical trials, HIV counseling and testing, mental health counseling for caregivers and patients, transportation, child care, information and referrals.

Narrowing Down Your Options

After you've selected several good candidates for your new HIV specialist, you'll want to narrow them down and make a choice. If you have an HMO, make certain the doctors you have in mind are on its acceptance list. On the other end, you'll want to make sure the doctor's office or clinic accepts your insurance. It's also a good idea to find out if they'll accept Medicaid, whether or not you currently have it. If you don't have any insurance, your options may be limited to doctors affiliated with public hospitals and health clinics.

The best way to choose your new doctor is to have an initial visit with each candidate and decide from there if you want to sign on with one of them. In his best-selling book Final Exit, Derek Humphry gives some excellent advice on how to conduct this screening process with your "finalists":

Call ahead and make appointments with these doctors. Say that you would require 15 or 20 minutes of the doctor's time. You will find that most will appreciate your investigations. For the most part, doctors today are not as stuffy and formal as they used to be.

While you are waiting to see the doctor for this selection interview, assess the appearance of the waiting room and whether the magazines are changed regularly. Are the staff pleasant and helpful? Here are clues to the level of consideration given to the patient. You do not want a doctor who is just running a business! If you are kept waiting some time, observe whether the doctor apologizes for the delay and at least hints at the reason why. Be quick to put the doctor at ease. You do the talking. Tell who you are, where you live, and what your health priorities will be. Be candid about why you are changing doctors....

Don't be nervous about asking your doctor for some objective criteria. Where did qualification as a physician take place and when? At which hospital or hospitals does the doctor have privileges? Is this doctor a board-certified specialist? It is very important to ask what arrangements can be made for your medical records to be transferred from your old doctor to a new one....

Do not sign up with any doctor on the spot. Go home and think about your research. Of course, if you have a spouse or companion, it is preferable that you make these doctor shopping visits together. When one of you is ill, it is often the companion who must communicate a great deal with the doctor. Share your thoughts about the various doctors before coming to a decision. When you have made your choice, find out which hospital that doctor most uses for admitting patients. This hospital may have a pre-admission procedure [which can streamline the paperwork if you enter at some point]. ...If possible, get copies of your Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care lodged with the hospital in advance. (You will by now have deposited them with your doctor.) ...

Until tested by serious problems, you cannot make a perfect assessment of which doctor is the best for you. All you can do while "shopping around" is to check if you can communicate well with this person. But that is a big start.

from Final Exit, c1991, The Hemlock Society. reprinted with permission

Working with a Doctor

Finding the right doctor is only half the battle. Once you settle on one, you'll need to learn how to work together effectively. It's important to establish a partnership with the doctor right up front. Make sure it's understood that you intend to take an active role in managing your illness and expect to be involved in all decisions affecting your care.

In general, be respectful but assertive. Speak as well as listen; lead as well as follow. Keep the lines of communication open at all times. Between visits, don't be timid about alerting your doctor to new developments in the field. At the same time, ask your doctor to keep you informed.

The "Baseline" Exam

Your first real appointment with your new doctor will probably involve a "baseline" examination. The purpose of this is to find out how well your immune system is functioning now, and establish a point of comparison for changes that may occur later on.

If you're working with an HIV specialist, she or he will want to run a T cell count, order a baseline chest X-ray, give you a skin test for tuberculosis and perform a thorough physical exam. Be prepared to answer a lot of questions about your lifestyle and medical history. If you have a record of your previous vaccinations, bring it with you. If your vaccinations aren't current, now might be a good time to renew them. Plan to bring along any medications, vitamins, or health supplements you are currently taking for the doctor to review.

Female patients will need some additional tests. Women living with HIV are especially prone to recurring gynecological problems such as vaginal yeast infections and pelvic inflammatory disease. Cervical cancer also is more common in HIV-positive women. If the doctor doesn't think of it, you may want to request a PAP smear and tests for sexually transmitted diseases and cervical abnormalities at this time.

If you decide to continue working with your "regular" doctor instead of an HIV specialist, there might be some confusion as to which tests are needed or what early warning signals to watch out for. If that's the case, you and your doctor may want to do some preliminary reading, or consider a specialist for an initial consultation. If you don't mesh well with the specialist, tell your regular M.D. and ask for a referral to a different specialist if the need arises again.

Resources for Professionals

American Medical Association
515 North State Street
Chicago, IL 60610

  • Offers the brochure, "HIV Early Intervention: Physician Guidelines, Second Edition," covering the stages of HIV infection, baseline testing requirements, T cell testing, and treatments. Enclose a $2 check payable to the AMA.

CDC National AIDS Information Clearinghouse
PO Box 6003
Rockville, MD 20849-6003
800-458-5231-English/Spanish/ French
800-243-7012-Hearing-impaired TTY/TDD

  • Questions answered and publications mailed confidentially, free of charge. Reference specialists do free database searches and make referrals on any aspect of HIV/AIDS. Serves both individuals and health care professionals.

Gay and Lesbian Physicians of Chicago
PO Box 14864
Chicago, IL 60614

  • Referral service for gay- and lesbian-friendly physicians. Free.

Illinois State Medical Society
20 North Michigan Avenue
Suite 700
Chicago, IL 60602

  • Educational seminars and materials on HIV/AIDS for physicians and the public. Speakers available (some in Spanish).

ImpactAIDS, Inc.
3692 18th Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

  • Request Early Care For HIV Disease by Baker/Moulton/ Tighe, a comprehensive book detailing the various tests and procedures involved in a thorough HIV baseline exam. ImpactAIDS has other brochures, booklets and videos available free of charge; call for a catalog.

Lesbian and Gay Psychologists
3023 North Clark Street
Suite 199
Chicago, IL 60657

  • Therapist referral service, conferences and workshops for the public and for professionals on mental health issues. Mental health consultation to other agencies serving the gay/lesbian/bisexual community. Sliding scale fees. Public Aid accepted. Bilingual.

Midwest AIDS Training and Education Center (MATEC)
808 South Wood Street
Chicago, IL 60612

  • Offers training for health care providers in all aspects of HIV disease. Resources and consultation for training workshops for health professionals throughout Illinois. Clinical training programs for physicians.

National Pediatric HIV Resource Center (NPHRC)
15 South Ninth Street
Newark, NJ 07107
800-362-0091-Resource Center
9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon-Fri (Eastern time).

  • Serves professionals caring for children, youth, and families affected by HIV. Consultation, technical assistance and training. Bilingual.

Physicians Association for AIDS Care (PAAC)
101 West Grand Avenue
Suite 200
Chicago, IL 60610

  • Publisher of journal JPAAC, addressing HIV-related clinical subjects and related topics. Also an advocacy group for physicians treating HIV. Referral service for physician members only.

Regular Health Monitoring

After this baseline visit, you'll want to have regular checkups in order to monitor your "immune status" (meaning your ability to resist opportunistic infections). Do this even if you feel fine and have no symptoms. HIV can progress without notice. Keeping a close eye on it will help you know when to take specific measures to prevent serious disease. You and your doctor can decide together on how frequent these checkups will be. If you are ill or taking medication, you'll probably be seeing the doctor more often. Women also are advised to have more frequent gynecological exams.

At your baseline checkup and each regular visit thereafter, feel free to take notes or run a tape recorder if it will help you remember the doctor's instructions. You also may find it helpful to start a journal in order to keep track of symptoms and/or questions between visits. Bring this journal to your doctor's office to help you remember.

At each appointment, describe as thoroughly and specifically as possible any symptoms you may have had. Learn to discuss your situation frankly. Detailed information about your lifestyle, eating habits, sexual practices, and use of alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, and other drugs will make your doctor better able to evaluate your health and help you arrive at appropriate treatment decisions. It may help to remember that anything you discuss will be kept confidential. Also, most experienced M.D.'s have "heard it all." A good doctor is not likely to be shocked or distressed by anything you might choose to reveal about yourself.

You may find it difficult to assert yourself where your doctor is concerned. However, it's the only way to become a full, responsible partner in your medical care. Don't feel you have to be a "good patient" and not take up too much of the doctor's valuable time. Your time is just as valuable, and your questions and concerns every bit as pressing as anyone else's. Also, now is not the time to worry about appearing ignorant. Don't be afraid to ask the doctor to repeat or re-explain something you didn't understand at an earlier visit. For all their skills and talents, doctors are not mind-readers. They won't know you still have questions unless you ask.

Patient Rights 
and Responsibilities

In working with any health care professional, you have certain rights and responsibilities:
  1. You have a right to the best and most responsible medical treatment available without discrimination on the basis of ethnic or national origin, sex, sexual orientation, religion, ability to pay, addictions history, or ultimate source of payment.
  2. You have a right to ask questions and to have tests and procedures explained to you in language you can understand.
  3. You have a right to know what medications are being prescribed to you, to full disclosure about treatment side effects, and to a frank discussion of the pros and cons of all the different options available to you.
  4. You have a right to refuse tests or treatment for any reason.
  5. You have a right to a second opinion and to seek answers to your questions from outside sources.
  6. You have a right to be treated like a person--not an experiment, curiosity, or teaching "visual aid."
  7. You have a right to honesty, privacy (to the extent possible), and considerate, dignified, and respectful care and treatment from all medical professionals with whom you come in contact. You are entitled to complain to the proper authorities when these standards are not met.
  8. You have a right to have whomever you want with you when you talk to your doctor.
  9. You have a right to confidentiality.
  10. You have a right to believe in your physician or in supplemental treatments as you see fit.

By the same token:

  1. You have a responsibility to be honest with your doctor about supplemental treatments you may be using, risks you may be taking, sexual and other practices that could affect your health, and alcohol and other drug use.
  2. You have a responsibility to take prescriptions as directed by your doctor--and to speak up if they are causing problems for you, or if you decide to discontinue taking them.
  3. You have a responsibility to treat your doctor like a person--not like an oppressor or God.
  4. You have a responsibility to find a doctor who will work with you on your terms--even if that means switching doctors more than once.
  5. You have a responsibility to ask questions until you understand.

    These rights and responsibilities apply to any health care setting, be it a hospital, hospice, clinical trial center, or your own doctor's office.

  6. In Illinois and other states, you have a responsibility to help stop the spread of HIV by giving your doctor or the public health authorities the names of people with whom you've had sex or shared needles. You cannot, however, be forced to name names, nor can you legally be denied treatment or other services if you don't. In no case should your doctor judge or discriminate against you based on any information you choose to provide about how you became infected.

If all goes well, you and your doctor will build an effective, trusting relationship capable of lasting for many years. If not, you may eventually decide to look for another primary care physician. You'll probably know in your gut if things aren't working out. Don't be afraid to pursue other options at any time during the course of your illness.

Finding and Working 
with a Dentist

In addition to finding a doctor, you'll also want to look for a dentist who serves HIV-positive patients. It's more than simply a matter of good dental care; HIV infections of the mouth and gums are common and can be severe. Your current dentist may not be equipped to treat you effectively should the need arise.

Unfortunately, finding the right dentist can be more difficult than finding the right doctor. Many dental procedures are invasive and therefore viewed as "risky" to both dentist and patient. In the past, dentists often gave that as their main reason for declining to treat people living with HIV and AIDS. A more likely reason was their fear of what may happen to their practice if "word gets out" they treat people with AIDS.

The Illinois Human Rights Commission has ruled that it is illegal for a dentist to refuse to treat HIV-positive patients. The American Dental Association has condemned this behavior as unethical. That said, there are dentists in the Chicago area who are able and willing to treat you. You can get referrals through others living with HIV, AIDS service organizations, and by contacting the resources below.

In choosing the right dentist, you may decide to go through a selection process similar to that of finding the right doctor. Once you've chosen a dentist you feel comfortable with, take the same care in tracking and reporting symptoms, asking questions, and participating in treatment decisions.

Be prepared for your dentist and his staff to take the "spaceman approach" in dressing for your visit-full gloves, face masks, and eye coverings. Try not to take offense; you haven't been singled out for special treatment. In fact, dental and disease control authorities now require that dentists wear those infection barriers with all patients.

Dental Referral Services in the Chicago Area

Chicago Dental Society
401 North Michigan Avenue Suite 300
Chicago, IL 60611

  • Dental referrals during normal business hours.

Cook County Department of Public Health
1010 Lake Street, Suite 300
Oak Park, IL 60301
or 708-445-2437
708-445-2406-Hearing-impaired TTY/TDD

  • Free anonymous and confidential HIV counseling and testing, T cell testing, dental services, case management, physician referrals, and risk reduction/prevention information.

Illinois State Dental Society
PO Box 376
Springfield, IL 62705

  • Referral to dental services, including donated dental services, discounted dental programs, portable dental equipment for home use, and referral for low-cost dentures. Sliding scale fees.

Northwestern Dental School
240 East Huron Street
Chicago, IL 60611

  • Provides emergency dental services, routine exams and cleaning; major dental work available.

800-DOCTORS (362-8677)

  • Offers dentist and oral surgeon referrals. Unlike physicians, however, Prologue-listed dentists aren't identified according to whether they see HIV-infected patients.

Spang Clinic
845 West Wilson Avenue
Chicago, IL 60640

  • Free dental care for persons with HIV/AIDS. Referrals needed.

Zoller Memorial Dental Clinic
5841 South Maryland Avenue (MC 2108)
Chicago, IL 60639

  • General dental care, oral and maxillofacial surgery, and pediatric dentistry. Public Aid accepted.

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This article was provided by HIV Coalition (HIVCO).