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I’m Losing My HIV Doctor, What Can I Do?

hiv doc

You found your favorite doctor, and you can do it again. Here's help for the road ahead.

Have you ever had the experience of losing your HIV doctor? Here’s what happened recently with a client and her doctor, who I will call Toni and Dr. Ross.

Toni has been with her current doctor, Dr. Ross, for about two years. She moved to her after having to leave her former doctor as a result of switching to a new insurance company that he didn’t work with.

So you can imagine how Toni felt when Dr. Ross made this announcement: “Toni, I have accepted an offer to move to a university-based practice out of state. So I’ll be closing my office in a couple of months.” 

For the rest of the day and evening, Toni thought about her doctor’s decision to leave. After some initial frustration while Toni and her doctor learned how to communicate with each other, they had been working well together in managing her HIV. Toni often told her friends that she had never felt so comfortable with a physician as she was with Dr. Ross. In fact, she loved him. He was always upbeat and friendly, which Toni appreciated, and Toni’s HIV was undetectable under his care.    

Losing Your Doctor Sucks! Finding a New One is a Process, But Not Impossible!

So what next? Toni had found Dr. Ross the hard way, by calling one doctor after another until she found one that took her insurance. She wasn’t looking forward to going through that process again. And would she ever find another Dr. Ross? Toni was feeling pretty bleak about her prospects for finding a doctor who could fill Dr. Ross’s shoes. 

If you’re ever in Toni’s position, here are some ideas to help you find a new doctor: 

First, get a handle on your emotions. Sure, this is a setback you didn’t ask for. And that brings up a lot of emotions. So don’t hold back on letting yourself feel how you feel. It can help to sit down with a friend or family member and talk things out. Vent as needed. Once you sort out your emotions, you’ll be in a better position to take action.

Get started right away. Don’t wait until you are no longer able to see your current doctor. Keep in mind that some physicians may have a longer wait time for an initial appointment. So get a few prospects lined up, if possible. 

Make a list of what you want in your new doctor. Some qualities to consider include: Training and certification. Experience. Hospital affiliation. Location. Technology. Approach to treating HIV. And, of course, bedside manner. 

Have realistic expectations. First, don’t expect to clone your current doctor. The candidates you ultimately meet with may have some of the qualities of your former doctor but not all of them. Be clear with yourself on what you have to have and what you can let slide. But keep experience with in successfully treating HIV at the top of the list. Having realistic expectations will make your search a whole lot less frustrating. 

Ask your doctor for a referral. Your current physician may have colleagues that he or she trusts and could recommend.  Sometimes local hospitals also have a number you can call for referrals to affiliated physicians.    

Do some networking. If you know people who are living with HIV, or know someone who knows someone, you might ask for names of doctors to get in touch with. It never hurts to ask around for who to consider as well as who not to consider. 

Talk to your insurance company. They may have a list of doctors in their network on their website, or you may be able to call them for suggestions. You will most likely still want to do your own research on these physicians before you contact them. 

Get on the Internet. Google on doctors with experiencing in treating HIV in your area. See what pops up. Read biographies of the doctors you come across. This will at least give you a feel for whose out there and who you may want to get in touch with.      

Check out the ratings websites. There are various ratings websites that can provide additional insights into the physicians you are interested in. Ideally, check out a doctor’s ratings on more than one site. And keep in mind that a negative review may come from a disgruntled patient, and not because the physician performed poorly. Read numerous reviews and see if any patterns, positive or negative, emerge.    

Don’t be afraid to interview prospects. You can arrange to have an initial appointment with a physician to talk about how he or she would treat HIV and how they work with their patients. An initial discussion will also give you a sense of whether the two of you have chemistry or not. You don’t have to commit to being a patient until you are ready. 

Stay optimistic. Yes, you had a great doctor. And yes, finding a new one is not easy. But there are other good doctors out there, it just may take you some time and effort to find the right match. So don’t give up, even when the going is rough.    

You are your doctor. It’s hard to say good-bye, that’s for sure. But when you have to, be confident in your ability to make the right connection. You did it before and you’ll do it again. 

Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and author in New York City, who specializes in working with individuals diagnosed with chronic and catastrophic medical conditions, their caregivers, and professionals. He maintains a website, 

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