Even if you don't need treatment yet, you'll still need to find a medical professional experienced in treating people with HIV. Regular checkups with an HIV health care provider are extremely important, even when you don't feel sick.
"The more knowledge HIV-positive people have, the better they are able to consider the pros and cons of each decision. I encourage questions from my patients because I feel it is important to their care."
You'll need to find a health care provider (this could be a physician, nurse practitioner or physician assistant) with special training in HIV who has treated 20 or more people with HIV in the past two years. You'll want someone who stays on top of the newest information about HIV medications, tests and other issues.
However, it's just as important to choose someone you like, someone you feel you can trust and be open with. This means you'll need to find someone you can be honest with about sensitive issues -- everything from sex, drugs and alcohol use to missing doses of HIV meds.
Your health care provider is your partner in fighting the virus. She or he will be your ally for a long time, helping you deal with the ups and downs of HIV disease, the drugs that control the virus, the side effects that may come with the drugs, and many other health issues. You need to be completely open with your health care provider in order for that person to do his or her job -- which is to help you stay healthy.
Every person living with HIV deserves the best care possible, regardless of ability to pay. The good news is, not only do you deserve the best care, you can get it.
"What makes the doctor is not their color, but the choices they're making and how committed they are to the patient."
-- Marcya Owens, diagnosed in 1994
There's a nationwide network of services, programs and resources to help people with HIV remain healthy -- even people who have no insurance or low incomes.
Many big cities have state-of-the-art HIV clinics for people who have no insurance. When you enroll in these clinics, you get medical care from a top team of HIV health care providers as well as counseling and support for mental health, substance abuse and other issues. You may be assigned to a case manager, who will become the person you can turn to first for whatever help you need -- such as figuring out which government programs can pay for your HIV medications and HIV care.
Live in a rural area? Getting the best HIV care possible may mean traveling to the nearest city several times a year -- an extra effort, but one that will repay you with better health.
For a list of HIV clinics near you, call the CDC Health Line at 1-800-232-4636. An HIV clinic will give you better care than other types of health clinics or hospital emergency rooms, since it is staffed by HIV specialists and is equipped specifically to help people with HIV.