Kiwis living with HIV will now have access to a new interactive tool to help them overcome a range of treatment barriers and better communicate with their healthcare providers. The introduction of the tool into New Zealand follows the release of a new study which investigated the experiences of HIV patients at a global level.
The study found there are many reasons why people living with HIV may find it more difficult to talk comfortably with their healthcare providers, which also compromises medical treatment and quality of life.
The Unity Tool, which will be introduced to Kiwis this month, is an interactive online resource designed by HIV advocacy groups, healthcare providers and GSK/ViiV Healthcare to improve treatment outcomes and optimise treatment beyond control of the HIV virus, by helping the patient feel more comfortable disclosing their health needs.
Another new study shows mental health issues such as depression and anxiety may be more than twice as high in HIV patients compared to that of the rest of the population. It is hoped that the tool which encourages greater communication will also help to support those in a more vulnerable state of mind.
The tool uses an online form to take patients through a series of questions and then creates an appointment guide which they can take to their healthcare provider for further discussion on issues of concern.
The questionnaire covers issues including general well-being, emotional, social and family life, work life, sex life and suitability of the HIV treatment and its effect on their quality of life.
Dr Ian Griffiths, medical director of GSK NZ, says the tool is a useful precursor to a patient appointment as it helps them identify and describe problems and facilitate a more meaningful conversation with their specialist.
“There can be a wide range of reasons why people living with HIV may not be able to communicate openly with their doctor face-to-face. The aim of the Unity Tool is to support those people living with HIV in their conversations with their healthcare providers over especially personal, difficult or troublesome issues which may be worrying them,” he says.
Dr Griffiths says it's essential that there is greater communication between people living with HIV and their medical carers as the research shows that poor interactions between the two groups has a detrimental effect on a patient’s treatment adherence and quality of life.
“What this tool will help us do is break down the barriers to communication between doctor and patient to ensure they optimise lifestyle choices and treatment regimens,” he says. Further research showed that as many as 90% of people living with HIV believe that their medical consultations could be improved if their wellbeing was discussed in greater depth than it currently was.
Dr Griffiths says interestingly it was not just HIV patients who felt that current interactions were inadequate, with almost half of healthcare providers saying that discussion guides would be a valuable tool to help better support interactions with patients to improve clinical outcomes.
Body Positive* executive director Mark Fisher says that more needs to be done to meet the needs of those living with HIV including helping to foster a more open and honest discussion with their healthcare providers.
“The Unity Tool is an important way to maintain an ongoing dialogue between healthcare providers and those people living with HIV. The online form helps them communicate their general well-being at the same time as asking them to describe their current treatment status. “With their treatment status outlined, they are prepared to have an informed and engaging discussion with their health care provider to discuss options to improve their wellbeing and to discuss new treatment options, such as the most recently funded HIV medication Tivicay, indicated as one of the first line treatment options by international guidelines which some may not have even asked if they are eligible for,” says Fisher.
Sexual Health Specialist and GP Dr Rick Franklin, who has more than 25 years’ experience treating HIV patients, says the new tool will go a long way in helping to secure best practice for healthcare providers and their HIV patients when it comes to prescription and adherence of medicines. “We know that there are a number of barriers which HIV patients may experience in seeking better treatment, anything we can do to facilitate the conversation with their healthcare provider will help us better manage the disease and ensure optimal quality of life” says Dr Franklin.
Dr Griffiths says New Zealand will be the sixth country to receive the Unity Tool which is already being utilised in the UK, Austria, Belgium, Netherlands, Singapore and Spain. This resource will be hosted online and available to patients, healthcare providers and advocacy groups.