What to Ask When Looking for an Infectious Disease Specialist

Once you’ve been diagnosed with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or Aquired Immune Defiency Syndrome (AIDS), you’ll want to place yourself in the care of an infectious disease specialist with impeccable credentials and a compassionate demeanor. Someone on staff at a teaching hospital is a good indicator that the doctor probably stays abreast of cutting-edge HIV/AIDS treatments. Don’t be afraid to interview several doctors until you find one that you are comfortable with. Here are some questions to ask as you search for the right physician.

  • Do you specialize in treating people with HIV or AIDS? If not, what percentage of your practice is related to treating these patients?
  • How many doctors refer HIV and AIDS patients to you?
  • Are you on the staff of a teaching hospital?
  • Have you ever taught, written or lectured about HIV or AIDS?
  • Are you involved in HIV/AIDS research?
  • Are you accessible by phone 24 hours a day to answer my questions?
  • Do you personally report test results to your patients, or do you delegate this task to members of your staff?
  • What is your philosophy regarding alternative HIV treatments?
  • If necessary, could you get me into a clinical trial of promising experimental drugs?

What to ask your doctor if you have just tested positive for HIV

Until the mid 1990s, becoming infected with HIV was tantamount to a death sentence. Today, however, there is a growing pharmacopoeia of antiretroviral medications that in many cases may turn HIV infection into a chronic medical condition that people can live with, perhaps for decades. Protease inhibitor cocktails, for example, have snatched thousands of AIDS patients from the jaws of death and sent them back to work. Having been diagnosed as being HIV-positive, you’ll want to learn as much as possible about HIV and how to fight it. Your physician is your greatest ally. Here are some questions to ask your doctor during your initial consultation.

  • What are my treatment options?
  • What adverse side effects are associated with the various drug regimens that are available?
  • Is it possible to stave off full-blown AIDS indefinitely if I take my medications as prescribed?
  • Is it likely that I’ll need to change my medications from time to time?
  • If I stop taking my drugs at some point, will I get sick?
  • If I stop taking my drugs or miss a few doses, will the virus become drug-resistant?
  • Are there any promising experimental drugs that you can get me access to?
  • Aside from using condoms, is there anything else I should do to avoid spreading this infection to others?
  • To what extent can you keep my HIV status confidential?
  • Will I need to disclose to public health officials all the people with whom I have had sexual contact or shared needles with?
  • Will my employer find out about my HIV status?
  • Is it possible to get pregnant without passing the virus to my baby?
  • Are there any alternative HIV treatments you can recommend as an adjunct to medical treatment?
  • Can you refer me to an HIV/AIDS support group or service organization?
  • How often will I have to come in for blood tests?
  • Does having HIV mean I will be more vulnerable to other sexually transmitted diseases and to influenza, cold germs and other infectious diseases?
  • Are there any dietary or lifestyle changes I should make to help fight this disease?
  • What should I look out for in terms of early AIDS symptoms?

What to ask your doctor if you have just been diagnosed with AIDS

  • Are there medications I can take to alleviate my current AIDS symptoms?
  • Are there medications available to prevent the onset of other opportunistic infections?
  • Is it possible to reverse the damage to my immune system?
  • Can you get me into a clinical trial of any promising experimental anti-AIDS drugs?
  • Is the treatment for full-blown AIDS different from the treatment for HIV without AIDS symptoms?
  • Is there anything that can be done if the side effects of my anti-AIDS drugs become intolerable?
  • Can you refer me to an AIDS service organization that can help me and my loved ones cope with my illness?
  • Should I avoid people who have colds or other contagious illnesses?
  • Can you recommend any alternative or complementary therapies I can try?
  • What dietary changes can I make to prevent severe weight loss?
  • What is my life expectancy if I do everything possible to fight this disease?