New VA HIV website designed to help vets, health care providers, general public

By Steve Tokar

Veterans with HIV, their health care providers, and the general public now have a “one-stop” website - - designed as an informational and educational resource on HIV and AIDS.

The site is the product of collaboration between the Public Health Strategic Health Care Group in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Center for HIV Information (CHI) at the University of California, San Francisco.

“I’m extremely pleased that the Department of Veterans Affairs now has a website that reflects its role as the largest provider of HIV/AIDS care in the United States,” said Paul Volberding, MD, chief of medicine at the San Francisco VA Medical Center and professor and vice-chair of medicine at UCSF. “The VA is committed to providing the most advanced care for patients and the most up-to-date tools for providers, and this site is a part of that commitment.”

“While this is the official VA website for HIV/AIDS, any patient or provider with an interest in HIV or AIDS should find it useful,” added CHI Director Laurence Peiperl, MD.

The site’s home page features side-by-side entrances to two separate areas: “For Patients and the Public” and “For Health Care Providers.”

The patient area has been designed to be simple to navigate and understand. Content is presented as a series of straightforward, clearly-written click-through tutorials. Text is easy to enlarge for visitors who need improved visual access. In the near future, pop-up questions will be added within the tutorials to help users remember what they have learned.

Patients will find easy-to-read lessons on topics such as “Basics,” “Getting Tested,” and “Just Diagnosed,” along with a “Daily Living” section with advice on exercise, mental health, alternative treatments, and other subjects. The area has information on how to prepare for appointments, including a list of suggested questions for patients to ask doctors about diagnosis and treatment.

There are also plans to add vet-to-vet support programs, such as an area where vets could share tips for coping with HIV/AIDS and its treatments.

The provider area features an online library of information on a variety of clinical topics, clinician tools such as an image library and testing consent forms, educational resources, and a comprehensive listing of links.

Of particular interest to providers is the “Working with Patients” section, which is meant to facilitate communication between patients and their providers. The section offers practical guidance on talking with patients about a variety of topics, and includes patient education tips.

There are also tools for providing care to HIV patients who are coinfected with hepatitis C, including the recently released VA HIV/HCV Coinfection Recommendations. “As the country’s largest provider of HIV care, the VA can help a lot of other healthcare providers by sharing its experience through this website,” said Peiperl.

VA providers can find VA-specific information on treatment and management of HIV, including policies and directives, and can take advantage of a Q&A forum to get answers to specific questions about VA policies.

“I’m especially impressed by the site’s broad scope and ease of use,” observed Volberding.

The VA/UCSF collaboration that led to the creation of the site was originally suggested by Lawrence Deyton, MSPH, MD, chief of PHSHG at the VA. The project was spearheaded by project manager Patricia Long and editorial assistant Charlotte Graeber of CHI, with input from editorial staff of other CHI websites. The medical advisory board for the project included Peiperl; CHI Medical Director Oliver Bacon, MD; and CHI Medical Editor Susa Coffey, MD. The production lead was Mary Salome and the technical lead was Norm Jefferies, both of CHI.

UCSF is a leading university that consistently defines health care worldwide by conducting advanced biomedical research, educating graduate students in the life sciences, and providing complex patient care.