Your first HIV appointment

Expect to see a doctor who is a HIV specialist

If you’ve been told you have HIV, its normal to then be referred to a doctor who is a HIV specialist, this doctor will keep track of your HIV care and treatments. In addition many people living with HIV tell us they’ve found it very useful to access emotional and welfare support from third sector organisations. Visit our service finder to find out more.

Your first appointment with a HIV specialists should be made for you within 14 days after your initial diagnosis. If this has not happened you should contact your GP or the clinic where you were diagnosed.
Many people living with HIV have told us they felt very overwhelmed and didn’t absorb a lot of what was said during their first appointment. Knowing what to expect may help you feel more at ease.

It helps to know the basics

Knowing the basics about HIV, treatment and care before your appointment may help you will feel more comfortable:

Don't be afraid to ask questions

Before you attend your first appointment you may want to take a note of any questions you have so that you don’t forget to ask them. You can even note down your doctor’s responses if that helps you stay calm and remember details.

Asking questions will help you get the information that’s right for your situation. Your doctor should explain things clearly and in a language you understand but if you don’t understand something, it’s absolutely acceptable to ask the doctor to speak slower, more clearly, or more simply. They are there to ensure you leave feeling confident and clear so don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat themselves. There is a law in place to make sure yours rights as a patient are considered.

Take a pen and paper. At the appointment you may find it useful to note down key points that the doctor tells you such as information about your test results, or any steps you need to take.

Some people find it helpful to bring a friend or family member with them so that the pressure is off you to remember everything on your own.

Know that you can be honest

Your doctor is there to help you, not judge you. The more honest you are about your activities and lifestyle choices the better they can help you.

One patient noted: “Sure it was a bit embarrassing at first, but my doctor helped me feel comfortable enough to talk about some awkward but important stuff like sex.”

What you can expect from your first appointment:

You will be asked about your physical, mental & sexual health.

The doctor will probably take blood from you to run some extra tests:

CD4 Count: This test measures the number of white blood cells the body has to fight infection. HIV destroys these cells and therefore reduces the body’s ability fight these infections. The higher your CD4 count the stronger your immune system.

Viral load: The viral load test measures the amount of HIV that is in your blood. The smaller your viral load the better as this means your immune system is fighting the virus.

Drug resistance: The drug resistance test determines whether or not your particular strain of HIV is resistant to any HIV treatments (see our treatment section).

If this has not already been done, the clinic may also test for other sexually transmitted infections as well as other infections such as hepatitis, tuberculosis and toxoplasmosis.

Women may also be tested for pregnancy and have a gynaecologic examination performed.

When you are diagnosed with HIV you may want to start treatment straight away as this has been shown to lead to better health outcomes. However, if your CD4 count is still over 500your consultant may suggest you wait before starting treatment. However, if you really want to start treatment you should make this clear to your consultant. Being on treatment will also reduce your viral load which reduces the chances of you passing the virus on to sexual partners.

By the end of your appointment its normal to feel a whole range of emotions including: confusion, relief, sadness or anger. Remember there is always support available; use our service finder to find the right support for you.