By Bart Whittington, Care Navigation Programs Manager at Texas Health Action
Like many, I have a long history of going to the doctor. My earliest memories go back to 3 or 4 years old. I was frightened. To me, this person was all powerful, larger than life. Not only did the doctor scare me, he had a nurse a.k.a. “vampire lady” who would make nice with me while she pricked my finger – ouch! I called her the vampire lady because she used a long rubber tube to literally suck the blood from my bleeding finger.
Thus, began my complicated relationship with my health. If I wanted to stay healthy, I had to brave the all-powerful doctor and vampire lady. Not only did I have to be brave, I had to submit the trust of my body to a process that sometimes caused me pain.
Fast forward to the year 2020 and I still have a complicated relationship with my health. My primary care physician (not at Kind Clinic) doesn’t always listen to me. Sometimes he cuts me off in mid-sentence. His medical assistant has been rude and talked down to me. However, they hold the keys to getting my prescription refills between visits – essential medications that help me function and be productive in my life. That’s A LOT of power and I don’t like feeling powerless.
Like me, you may also have a complicated history with the medical community, and thus, a complicated relationship with your health.
Luckily, Texas Health Action’s Kind Clinic was founded to uncomplicate healthcare. We understand that members of the LGBTQIA+ community have historically been underserved and misunderstood by the medical community and since 2015, Kind Clinic has strived to fill this gap and provide high quality sexual health care, free of stigma and fear.
While Kind Clinic was originally formed to help our community access PrEP for HIV prevention, we’ve since expanded our services to offer gender affirming care, STI testing and treatment, PEP for HIV prevention, HIV testing and care and other support services for the LGBTQIA+ community.
However, each of these services comes laden with individual roadblocks to engaging in care – what is known in the medical community as “Retention in Care (RIC).” Simply put, retention in care means that we attend our medical appointments regularly – which is vital to our health.
Here are some reasons why it’s so important for the LGBTQIA+ community to stay in care:
- You love yourself and taking care of your health is just one of the many ways you practice self-love (therefore I stay in care)
- If you’re on a PrEP regimen, it’s important to stay in care and on your medication to prevent acquiring HIV. It’s not uncommon for someone to stop taking PrEP, and eventually become HIV positive. One of the reasons this happens is because people often miscalculate their HIV risk factors.
- Good news: The CDC has a nifty tool for assessing HIV risk. There’s even a short video on how to use this tool here.
- For treatment of HIV, it’s important to stay in care because HIV must be treated for the remainder of your life (until there’s a cure).
- Good news: With advances in treatment, HIV is relatively easy to manage if you remain in care and take your medication as prescribed.
- Note: It’s extremely important to make certain you’re on the right track with your medication treatment in the first year after being diagnosed.
- U=U. For people living with HIV, it’s important to remain in care to achieve and maintain undetectable viral loads. Science has proven that those who are HIV positive and undetectable, cannot pass the virus to others. This is known as U=U (Undetectable = Untransmittable). Read more about U=U here.
Healthcare can be complicated and difficult – it certainly has been for me. But at Kind Clinic, we’re committed to making it simple, in a kind and affirming way. We’re always looking at ways to improve, so please reach out to us if you have any suggestions on how we can help you remain in care.
Retention in care is important – important for you, important to us. Practice a little self-love and stay in care. Your body and mind will thank you.
To reach a Patient Advocate or schedule a virtual TeleKind appointment, call our Patient Support Center at 833-WE-R-KIND (833-937-5463). You can also schedule an appointment online at one of our three Kind Clinic locations: Central Austin, North Austin, and San Antonio.
Bart Whittington, LMSW is a social worker with Texas Health Action’s Kind Clinic. Bart has a passion for ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic with special focus on the Southern United States and patient populations disproportionately affected by HIV. You may reach Bart by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via his LinkedIn profile.