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Talking to your Medical Provider about HIV

Talking to your medical provider can be overwhelming and difficult enough when you are there for a routine or chronic medical concern, such as sinus infection, cold, flu, diabetes, or high blood pressure. Add to the mix sex or sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as HIV, and you may not know what to say or even how to broach the subject. This is true whether you have HIV, simply want information about your risk for HIV infection or want to be tested.

Having a conversation with your provider about HIV and HIV testing is important because if you are infected, you may not have any signs or symptoms for several years. Even though you may feel and look healthy, HIV could still be in your body destroying your immune system. The Centers for Disease Control estimated that one in five persons do not know that he or she is infected with HIV. You can infect your partner(s) without either of you knowing it. The following will help guide you into an easy and open dialogue about HIV with your medical provider.

Do You Trust Your Provider?
It is very important that your provider is someone you can trust. Does the provider take time to talk when you have questions, or is he or she in a rush to get you out the door as quickly as possible? Is your provider knowledgeable about the latest information on HIV? You want to make sure you are getting correct information.

Don’t Know Your Risk? Ask!
There is nothing to be ashamed of. Many people do not know what behaviors put them at risk for HIV. You may be at risk if you have unprotected sex; share needles for intravenous drugs, tattoos, or other purposes; or have sex with someone who does. You may be at risk if you’ve been sexually abused. Be honest with your provider. If your provider does not suggest a test, ask for it!

What If My Provider Does Not Offer HIV Testing?
It is quite possible that your provider’s office does not provide laboratory services or offer HIV testing. The FACES Clinic at Nationwide Children’s Hospital offers free testing Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, 8am–4:00pm and Thursday 8am–6pm, on the 3rd floor of the Outpatient Care Center, 555 S. 18th Street, as well as at the at The Neighborhood House, 1000 Atcheson Street. Call 614-252-5315 for testing days and times. Free testing is also available at the Columbus Public Health Department, 240 Parsons Avenue. If you do not live in the Columbus area, your local public health department or AIDS task force will be able to direct you to testing resources in your area.

What If I Am HIV Positive?
If you test positive for HIV, it is important for you to get into and remain in care with a medical provider. Communication with your provider is essential. Be sure to report symptoms and any medication side effects. Follow your provider’s recommendations and become a partner in your treatment, and you can expect to live a long, productive life with HIV.

Angela Billingslea, LISW-S
Angela Billingslea, LISW-S is a Medical Social Work in the Family AIDS Clinic and Education Services (FACES) Program at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. In this setting she is active with educating patients and their families about living healthy and quality lives with HIV/AIDS. In addition, Angela is involved with the programs Outreach Team providing HIV counseling and testing services in the clinic as well as in the community. Her dream is to see HIV/AIDS eradicated in her lifetime.

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