One (HUGE) Way Metro Inclusive Health is Advancing HIV Care in Tampa Bay

By combining HIV and Primary Care together, Metro Inclusive Health is vastly improving health outcomes for those living with HIV.

The convenience of one provider, one appointment is a huge benefit to those living with HIV. This kind of unified care has been nearly impossible to find until Metro Inclusive Health, a Tampa Bay-based not-for-profit healthcare organization, began providing both services in tandem. As it turns out, combining HIV and Primary care can also greatly impact quality of life and overall health outcomes.

Patients learn about HIV treatment, Telehealth and METRO’s patient portal with direct access to providers, prescription refills, and more.

Centralized Care with a Certified HIV Primary Care Provider

“It’s common knowledge that primary care providers and specialists don’t always communicate, and that can be problematic,” says Dr. Luke Johnsen, Medical Director for Metro Inclusive Health.

“Equally, opting for HIV care from a primary care doctor can often underserve a patient’s needs.” Unfortunately, it’s not unusual to meet a patient who’s been in the same treatment regimen for five years or more. Oftentimes, they’ve spent years trying to get used to side effects that could have been handled by adjusting their treatment.

Dr. Johnsen recently saw a patient, new to METRO, who had been taking AZT (zidovudine or azidothymidine) since 2017. The first FDA-approved HIV treatment, introduced in 1987, has known side effects including anemia and complaints of “feeling ill.” It’s instances such as this one that are examples of barriers to care.

“There’s typically new advances in HIV care every couple of years — they can be both more effective and efficient,” continued Johnsen. “Access to a good HIV-certified provider means knowing what advances are coming and how they may impact your individual treatment.”

Patients learn about HIV treatment, Telehealth and METRO’s patient portal with direct access to providers, prescription refills, and more.

Drug Interactions, Side Effects & Family History

Knowing the possible interactions of HIV treatments can make a big difference. For instance, acid reflux drugs can impact the effectiveness of HIV treatments. Got a sinus infection? Some antibiotics interact with HIV treatments and can cause complications. Also, some over-the-counter supplements can affect HIV medications and make them less effective.

Additionally, if you have a family history of heart disease, your provider would be aware of which HIV treatments may increase your cholesterol levels.

Commonly, patients believe they must live with certain side effects. Dr. Johnsen remembers patients who’ve experienced vivid dreams, tend to feel a bit “buzzed,” or experience nausea or daily diarrhea. These symptoms can be addressed by adjusting treatment early on. Working with experienced providers means that patients can feel much better in their day-to-day life.

It’s true, an HIV provider or Infectious Disease Specialist may be familiar with medication interactions and side effects of HIV medications. However, they may also struggle to pick a medication for their patients’ non HIV-related health problems. Alternatively, they may not practice Primary Care due to the additional time commitment it requires. In this case, coordination of care can lag behind, as multiple providers have limited time to communicate with one another and coordinate medication changes or adjustments.

Filling prescriptions at a METRO partner pharmacy transforms your normal copay into health services for uninsured members of our community.

Aging with HIV

A specialist that combines HIV and Primary Care is likely to understand the impact of long term treatment. For example, some cancers can be more prevalent in long-term HIV patients. Equally, HIV patients who began treatment in the 80s may need to monitor for cognitive issues.

Primary Care providers are accustomed to screening their patients for a variety of medical conditions before symptoms develop based on established guidelines. They also tend to follow up with older patients at more regular intervals as health issues accumulate with aging, and those changes in health are detected more promptly.

The not-for-profit organization has locations in Tampa, St. Pete, Clearwater and New Port Richey.

Copay It Forward

A unique benefit of services provided through Metro Inclusive Health is our Copay It Forward program. Patients of any sort who use their normal copay to receive services — and more importantly, medications through a partner pharmacy — are in turn helping to provide services and medications to those who are un-or-under-insured.

Founded in 1992, Metro Inclusive Health is a 501(c)3 organization that began with one service: HIV case management. This means METRO has 30 years of experience in supporting those living with HIV. In that time, the organization has strived to become a centralized source for healthcare needs. To that end, we have expanded with over 100 services and programs including primary care with an LGBTQ+ focus, behavioral health, sexual health and prevention, advanced HIV care, pediatrics and more to be announced.

To learn more or to schedule an appointment at one of four Tampa Bay locations, visit METROTAMPABAY.ORG or call 727-321-3854

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