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Why Should You Credential as an HIV Specialist?: Members and Patients Are Asking for HIV Specialist Designations

President's Forum

Fall 2001

I am sure that as many of you read the cover article, "How to Become an AAHIVM HIV Specialist," you asked yourselves, "Hmmm, should I obtain the HIV Specialist credential?" Or, even more to the point, "Why should I become an AAHIVM HIV Specialist?" The Academy staff, board members, and I have spent well over a year discussing the specialty credentialing process with our members, patients, insurers, government organizations, and others. Together, they have given us a new perspective and several answers to these questions.

Many Members Want to Become Credentialed Right Now

Many of our members have told us that they want to become credentialed as soon as we send out our credentialing application kits. They are usually in one of two groups. The first group strongly believes in our Self-Directed HIV Medicine Education Program -- they embody the "self-directed" part of that title. They want to take the HIV Medicine Credentialing Examination to document their up-to-date knowledge. Many of them also have the altruistic aim of evolving and improving HIV care by supporting this process.

The second group tells us that they want to become credentialed immediately because they have recently experienced some event in the management of their practice that has demonstrated the value of credentialing. For example, in California, legislation now requires health plans to have standing referrals to HIV Specialists. Similar legislation will be introduced in Florida and New York. Since the Academy is the only national organization that offers the HIV Specialist designation, many of our members are ready to engage in the credentialing process immediately. Several of our members have told us that their involvement with the Academy and the impending credentialing requirement have already increased their ability to negotiate with their health plans. Even health plans have begun advocating for their providers to become credentialed as they struggle to find a method of identifying qualified HIV Specialists. In each of these situations, the market force that was needed to drive these changes was the credentialing process. For us to create such changes in other areas of the country, we need a body of credentialed HIV Specialists to create the market forces to drive further policy changes.

What Patient Advocates Have Told Us About Credentialing

One of the goals in creating a credentialing process for HIV Specialists is to support a national standard of quality care for all HIV-positive patients, by creating a way to measure how up-to-date a health care provider is in HIV treatment knowledge. The Academy continues to maintain dialogue with AIDS organizations representing a highly diverse patient population from across the country. We have received the consistent message from these varied groups that they want a valid, national measure and definition of an HIV Specialist. Treatment advocates have told us that they want a measure that assures patients and organizations that a practitioner is keeping up-to-date with the latest research and data.

AIDS organizations receive a large number of inquiries daily from patients needing referrals. They often refer to experienced HIV treatment providers in their area. But increasingly these organizations are coming to recognize that this is not a sufficient measure of up-to-date HIV treatment knowledge. Many have told us of patients receiving substandard care, even from experienced providers. As a result, AIDS organizations are greatly in favor of a method for measuring competency, such as the Academy's specialty credentialing process. Patients, too, have told us that they need a method to assure them that their health care provider has the latest HIV information.

Clearly, every conversation with Academy members, HIV patients, insurers, and government organizations has reinforced the awareness that the status quo simply is no longer working. I cannot say it any more plainly: Keeping the status quo of no credentialing only serves less experienced and/or less knowledgeable health care providers.

What About You?

So, should you become credentialed as an HIV Specialist? A certificate on your wall from the Academy will communicate to your patients and to your health plan that you have gone the extra step to keep up-to-date in HIV treatment knowledge, and you support the development of appropriate national standards. This will become increasingly important as clinics, AIDS organizations, government agencies, and especially patients continue to learn more about credentialing. And your voice will join your 1,200 fellow Academy members and others in supporting health care providers in HIV medicine and ensuring better care for those living with AIDS and HIV disease.

Our credentialing process is relatively easy and is offered as a free service (even to non-members), but it does involve some paperwork. You will have to decide if obtaining the HIV Specialist designation, and all this entails, is worth completing a little more paperwork. Perhaps there is another way to envision it: Picture the first time a patient or treatment advocate asks, "Are you an HIV Specialist?" How will you answer? I hope you will choose to point to your specialty certificate and say, "Yes, not only am I a member of the American Academy of HIV Medicine, rest assured that I have become credentialed as an HIV Specialist and I am keeping my treatment knowledge up-to-date."

Back to The Nexus Fall 2001 contents page.

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This article was provided by American Academy of HIV Medicine. It is a part of the publication The Nexus.