It is advisable to see your doctor at your specialist HIV clinic every 3 to 6 months. The main purpose of these visits is to give you your blood tests results which are used to monitor the long-term trends in your CD4 count and HIV viral load. This is so your doctor can keep a close eye on how your HIV is progressing and how healthy your immune system is.

How your doctor monitors your HIV is explained in the section on Monitoring Your HIV.

If you are starting or changing HIV treatment then your visits to your HIV clinic may well need to be more frequent until you get used to the new anti-HIV drugs and the routine of taking them. This may also be true if you decide to go on a drug trial, or if there’s something unusual happening with your HIV treatment that needs close monitoring.

We talk more about HIV treatment, anti-HIV drugs and drug trials in the section on HIV Treatment.

Regular clinic visits
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For your regular visits, when you make an appointment to see your HIV doctor remember that your viral load test result can take two weeks to come through. For this reason you’ll need to visit your clinic to give some blood for testing at least a couple of weeks before your appointment, or your doctor may not have all the results he needs to discuss with you. Check with your clinic what system they use for taking blood for tests. Some have a drop-in service meaning you can just turn up to give blood. Others, however, only do this by appointment.

It may be useful to buy a diary so you can note down all your clinic appointments and when you need to go to have blood taken for testing. It may also be worth asking your clinic when their quietest times are as this may help you to avoid long waiting times.

"I see my doctor every 6 months and so far my CD4 count is high and my viral load fairly low. My clinic is busy so it pays for me to book appointments shortly after I've had my last one. I know that sounds like a long time, but there's no point in me going to have my bloods done and then booking my appointment to see the doctor. I book the doctor a few months before and then remember to go for bloods at least 2 weeks before the appointment." (Martin, 39) 

Other services at your clinic
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Your clinic will also be able to offer you services other than your regular appointments with your HIV doctor. These services may differ from clinic to clinic so it’s best to check with your clinic exactly what services they provide. Some of the services offered may include:

On-call doctors should be available through a drop-in service at your clinic. The drop-in service is there in case you need to see an HIV doctor quickly outside your regular visits. This could be because you’re concerned about sudden side-effects you’re experiencing from your HIV treatment, or if you have any other HIV related health concerns that you feel can’t wait until your next regular visit. Remember though that this drop-in service is not a replacement for your GP and is only there for problems associated with you HIV or HIV treatment. If you do need to see the on-call doctor, try to get to your clinic as early as possible. Patients at the drop-in service are normally seen on a first come first served basis and it is usually very busy which means you may have quite a wait.

Health advisers are available by appointment at HIV clinics for you to talk to whenever you feel he need. They are there to discuss any concerns you may have about HIV, your health or other issues around HIV and living with HIV that you may be worried about.

Health advisers can also provide advice or short-term counselling if you are having trouble coping or dealing with living with HIV. These include dealing with your diagnosis, disclosure and coping with HIV in your relationship. Health advisers can also refer you on to other support services and professionals.

Treatment advisers may be available at your clinic to talk to you and offer information and advice about your HIV treatment options. This may be because you need to think about starting HIV treatment, or you need to change treatment to a different combination of anti-HIV drugs.

Dieticians can give you advice about your diet and talk to you about the right foods to eat to keep your immune system as strong as possible. They can also offer advice about the right foods to eat with certain anti-HIV drugs that have food restrictions.

Your clinic may also be able to offer services such as a specialist HIV dentist and referrals to counselling, psychologists, complementary and alternative therapy, social workers who can help with your HIV related social care and access to benefits, and services offered by voluntary organisations such as Terrence Higgins Trust.

Specialist dentists at HIV clinics are usually very busy and it can take months to get an appointment, so you may still need to visit your usual NHS or private dentist. If you aren’t registered with a dentist, ask at your clinic as they may be able to recommend one to you.

If you are unsure about exactly what services your clinic can offer ask your doctor or a health adviser about what’s available next time you have an appointment.

Changing your clinic
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You can use any clinic for your HIV treatment, services and care, even if the clinic is not in the area where you live.

If you are moving to a different area then it may be easier for you to change to a clinic that’s closer to where you are moving to rather than continue with your current clinic. If you are moving area but would rather stay with your current clinic then that’s not a problem either.

If you are unhappy about the treatment or care you receive at your current HIV clinic, you can ask to speak to a health adviser or the nurse in charge at the clinic about your concerns. If you are still unhappy, then you can always change to a different doctor, or even a different clinic. Changing your doctor should not affect the quality of service that you are entitled to, even if you continue to use the same clinic.

If you want to change to a different clinic then your records and medical history will need to be transferred to the new clinic. Your current clinic will be able to tell you how to go about changing to a new clinic.

When I was first diagnosed, I was allocated a doctor at the clinic. She worked part-time and it was often difficult to get an appointment to see her. Furthermore, even on my first visit she made me feel very uncomfortable and uncertain about my future, despite having satisfactory blood test results.

"I wasn’t comfortable with her, and on the recommendation of a friend I changed my doctor and clinic. I am much happier with the doctor I have now, and am much more relaxed and confident about my health." (Steve, 24)