Understanding HIV Care
Who Should Be on My Health Care Team?
Finding a health care team that is knowledgeable about HIV care is an important step in managing your care and treatment. Your HIV health care provider should lead your health care team. That person will help you determine which HIV medicines are best for you, prescribe antiretroviral therapy (ART), monitor your progress, and partner with you in managing your health. He or she can also help put you in touch with other types of providers who can address your needs. Your primary HIV health care provider may be a medical doctor (MD or DO), nurse practitioner (NP), or a physician assistant (PA).
In addition to your HIV health care provider, your health care team may include other health care providers, allied health care professionals, and social service providers who are experts in taking care of people with HIV. These professionals include:
- Health care providers like physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants.
- Allied health care professionals like nurses, mental health providers, pharmacists, nutritionists, and dentists.
- Social service providers like social workers, case managers, substance use specialists, and patient navigators. In addition, the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program provides a comprehensive system of HIV primary medical care, medication, and essential support services if you are a low income person living with HIV.
How Can I Make the Most of My Medical Care?
HIV care and treatment is most successful when you actively take part. That means taking your HIV medications as prescribed, keeping your medical appointments, and communicating honestly with your health care provider. This can be achieved when you:
- Keep all of your medical appointments by:
- Using a calendar to mark your appointment days,
- Setting reminders on your phone,
- Downloading an app on your phone that can help remind you of your medical appointments,
- Keeping your appointment card in a place where you will see it, and
- Asking a family member or friend to help you remember your appointment.
- Be prepared for your medical appointments by writing down questions or concerns you want to discuss with your health care provider and being prepared to write down the answers.
- Talk openly and honestly with your health care provider. Your health care provider needs to have the most accurate information to manage your care and treatment.
- Keep track of your lab results, medical visits, appointment dates and times, medicines and medicine schedules, and care and treatment plans.
- Make sure your health care providers have your correct contact information.
You can also view stories and testimonials on the CDC Act Against AIDS Campaign HIV Treatment Works website on how people with HIV are sticking to their care and treatment plans.
What Can I Expect During a Medical Visit?
During your medical visit your health care provider may:
- Conduct medical exams to see how HIV is affecting your body.
- Ask you questions about your health history.
- Take a blood sample to check your viral load.
- Look for other kinds of infections or health problems that may weaken your body, make your HIV worse, or prevent your treatment from working as well as possible.
- Give you immunizations, if you need them.
- Discuss, prescribe, and monitor your HIV medicines.
- Discuss ways to help you follow your HIV treatment plan.
- Help identify additional support you may need.
- Ask you about your sex partners and discuss ways to protect them from getting HIV.
Related: Living With HIV
What Are the Different Tests That Help Monitor My HIV?
In addition to other general health tests, your health care provider will use blood tests to monitor your HIV infection. These test results will also help your health care provider decide whether he or she should make changes to your treatment.
CD4 cells, also called T-cells, play an important role in your body's ability to fight infections. Your CD4 count is the number of CD4 cells you have in your blood. When you are living with HIV, the virus attacks and lowers the number of CD4 cells in your blood. This makes it difficult for your body to fight infections. Typically, your health care provider will check your CD4 count every 3 to 6 months.
Viral Load Test
Your viral load is the amount of HIV in your blood. When your viral load is high, you have more HIV in your body, and your immune system is not fighting HIV as well. Your health care provider will use a viral load test to determine your viral load.
You should have a viral load test every 3 to 6 months, before you start taking a new HIV medicine, and 2 to 8 weeks after starting or changing medicines.
[Note from TheBody: This article was created by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who last updated it on Aug. 27, 2018. We have cross-posted it with their permission.]