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The US Department of Health and Human Services Guidelines for the Use of Antiretroviral Agents in HIV-1-Infected Adults and Adolescents recommends antiretroviral therary (ART) for all HIV-infected patients to achieve viral suppression, restore and preserve immunologic function, prevent HIV transmission, reduce the incidence of and rate of death associated with HIV infection, and prolong the duration and quality of life.1 During the initiation of ART, the Guidelines stress the importance of educating HIV-positive patients about the benefits of effective ART and strict adherence to their treatment regimen. Information alone may not be sufficient; patients also need to be motivated to succeed. Taking a patient-centric approach to patient education may help patients better understand the challenges ahead and enable them to take the necessary steps to protect their long-term health.2
Consider the following tactics to help educate and empower patients to make treatment decisions that lead to better health outcomes.
Anticipate a learning curve
Fear, anger, and shock may cloud your patients' perceptions after receiving an HIV diagnosis. Patients need to hear that HIV is a manageable condition, and with effective treatment they can have close to a normal life expectancy.2 Patient education on how to live with HIV should start immediately, but anticipate that patients may need time for a diagnosis to sink in, and schedule frequent follow-up visits for additional opportunities to repeat and reinforce information and directives as needed.
Encourage patients to keep learning
Informed patients are better equipped to make decisions that lead to positive health outcomes.2 Patients need to know that HIV is an ongoing journey and should be encouraged to keep learning everything they can about HIV, as well as what they can do to protect their health and the health of others. Patient education that includes information and related tools can encourage more active participation in care.
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Take a patient-centric approach
Support individual needs with a patient-centered approach to education.2 Connect patients to a multidisciplinary team according to patient-specific needs. Some patients may not absorb information right away, so repetition is key. Others may need information tailored to their literacy level or communicated in their primary language. Still others may prefer to learn from the experience of an HIV peer educator. Try different approaches to see what works for each patient.
Did You Know?
HIV-positive peer educators can help promote a patient-centric atmosphere.2
Educate to empower
One primary goal in HIV care is patient self-management, which involves patients adopting new behaviors over time to take charge of their health.2 These management practices may include problem solving, goal setting, dealing with tough emotions, or adopting healthy behaviors regarding sex and disclosure. Foster patient self-management by creating a supportive learning atmosphere. As patients learn and adopt new skills, they will gain a sense of empowerment. Once patients have started to self-manage, continue to support them by developing health action plans that are realistic, valued, action-specific, and obtainable, so they can achieve, step by step, the knowledge and confidence they need to live a better life with HIV.
1. Guidelines for the use of antiretroviral agents in HIV-1-infected adults and adolescents. AIDSinfo website. https://aidsinfo.nih.gov/guidelines/html/1/adult-and-adolescent-arv-guidelines/10/initiation-of-antiretroviral-therapy. Published July 14, 2016. Accessed March 16, 2017.
2. Guide for HIV/AIDS Clinical Care. AIDS Education and Training Center website. https://aidsetc.org/guide/contents. Published April 2014. Accessed March 16, 2017.