Thursday, May 22, 2014

Linking Clients to Care: A New Tool

It's a common enough story: someone is diagnosed with HIV. That person is told she needs to visit the doctor as soon as possible. Maybe that person calls for an appointment, and maybe she doesn't - but that person doesn't make it to the doctor that week. Or that month. It could be a child care problem, or a transportation problem, or an appointment availability problem.

But in some cases, it's just that people who were just diagnosed with HIV don't know that there is a system of care available to them -- even if they can't pay for services. In 2010, 18% of newly-diagnosed Philadelphians with HIV weren't linked to care within 90 days. We don't know each person's reasons for not getting medical care right away, but lack of knowledge of the care system is an obvious barrier for newly-diagnosed clients. In fact, through our local needs assessments, we've repeatedly found that many people living with HIV/AIDS report not accessing medical care because they couldn't afford it. We're lucky enough to have a comprehensive system of services available through Ryan White, but newly-diagnosed clients won't know about it if no one tells them it's there.

Here's a preview. Download a copy here.
At the same time, we know that it's not always easy for HIV testers to give consistent messaging while getting important information from their clients.  Enter, our new linkage to care tool. We hope that this tool will relieve some of the burden on HIV testers, increase access to care and other services for newly-diagnosed people with HIV, and improve linkage to care performance for our local provider sites.

We developed this tool after an extensive review of treatment readiness assessments in use across the country, and reduced the questions to the most relevant ones for helping clients with their initial linkage to care.  It was developed in partnership with the Points of Integration Workgroup, which spent a great deal of time honing both the language and the questions.  The tool was then presented to both the Philadelphia EMA Ryan White Part A Planning Council and the Philadelphia HIV Prevention Planning Group for additional feedback and adjustments.

We would like to note that we developed this tool as an aid for providers, and we designed it to help individual HIV testers improve access to services for their clients (and, by extension, to improve their own performance). This tool was not designed for data collection. Testers might decide to make copies and use a separate form for each client, in order to provide an “at a glance” summary of what is most needed to make that first linkage.  They might use pieces of this tool as a supplement to their own routines.  They might keep a copy with them to use as a discussion guide.  How they use the tool is up to them, but we do hope that it proves useful in their day-to-day work.

Of course, like all of our documents, this is free to distribute and reproduce.  We made it in black and white to be copier-friendly. We also included fainter lines in the notes section, allowing the neater testers among us to write along the lines and the more out-of-the-box testers to write willy-nilly in whatever direction they choose. We wanted this to be as user-friendly as possible. In that spirit, we welcome feedback and suggestions. Feel free to comment here, or use the contact information on the form to get in touch.

Briana Morgan is a health planner and website coordinator at the Office of HIV Planning. You can also find her on Google+.

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