Timing of support is critical to patients’ HIV care plan


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Breaking the news of a life-changing diagnosis is one of the most difficult parts of a healthcare professional’s job. It’s a life-changing moment for any patient, with reactions ranging from fear to sadness to anger. We sat down with MetroHealth’s Jennifer McMillen Smith, LISW-S to look at how HIV care plans can be designed to support patients with a new HIV diagnosis.

Timing is everything

According to McMillen Smith, the most important thing to communicate to a new patient is that HIV is no longer considered a terminal illness. It’s chronic and manageable. When caught early and treated immediately, people with HIV can expect to live a near-normal lifespan. “Immediately, we offer treatment,” McMillen Smith says. “If the person is willing to stick around and start that day, we can usually find one of our doctors to see them right then, or the very next day.”

MetroHealth has found that rapidly devising an HIV care plan starting treatment lessens the number of days between being diagnosed and getting on treatment to just over 5 days. It also lessens the amount of time a patient is virally suppressed to an average of around 2 months. For new patients, having an undetectable viral load can be a massive morale boost. Undetectable equals untransmittable (U=U), and it frees patients from stigma and the fear of transmitting HIV to their partners.

Include support in HIV patient care plans

Starting treatment gives patients an immediate sense of control – especially in a situation where they may feel helpless. While a diagnosis might seem impossible to face, treatment quickly shows that life can go on. “It’s important for patients to understand they can usually live a long, healthy life with HIV. They’re not going to die from this” says McMillen Smith.

But care plans for HIV shouldn’t be limited to medication. Many patients need person-to-person support as soon as possible. Doctors, family, and friends can be immediate sources of comfort. Unfortunately, healthcare professionals are often busy and are unable to pick up the phone at odd hours. Many parents and friends might react with shock and fear when what a patient really needs is understanding. This kind of reaction combined with a lack of immediate support can cause feelings of isolation and fear.

We have written before about how to combat social isolation in people living with HIV, here, but the short version is that social isolation affects many people with HIV. Feeling alone is common, and the reality is that what they often need for their mental health is to talk to someone who knows what they’re going through. Someone who is going through the same thing.

On their side

We developed the Positive Peers app to help connect people living with HIV. It’s a private, peer-led support app for the especially vulnerable populations of 13–34-year-olds and LGBT BIPOC folx. Through the app, people living with HIV can create human connections in a virtual space to support each other and help one another connect to and stay in treatment.

A study by NIH (National Institutes of Health) showed that support groups help reduce illness, improve chronic infections (such as HIV), and offer a better quality of life. And it makes complete sense. When a person is newly diagnosed, they have to make decisions that can change the course of their lives. A new patient needs extra support and information to help guide them. The more the better.

Not to mention, our community is 4.2x more likely to achieve sustained viral suppression.

Positive Peers is there to help when healthcare professionals like McMillen Smith can’t be. She often recommends Positive Peers because when a new patient has a question at three o’clock in the morning, she won’t be able to answer, but someone else living with HIV could be on the app and have all the information they need to help get them through a difficult night. It’s just one more tool in the belt of someone newly diagnosed.

What you can do

Rapid support and care plans designed with the whole patient in mind are crucial for those living with HIV. Becoming a Positive Peers Key Health Partner will allow you to provide the resources for round-the-clock support for your patients. Key Health Partners get app admin access to be able to interact directly with users in your geo-location, provide regional content for your community, receive training and more.

Is your organization is interested in aiding those living with HIV? Become a key health partner.