Primary care physicians and advanced practice providers are responsible for the majority of people seeking medical care in the United States, yet there is a gap in discussing sexual health for those who are at risk of HIV or other sexually-transmitted diseases.
According to HIV.gov, approximately 13% of the estimated 1.2 million people who have HIV in the United States do not know they have the virus. Obviously, this is a significant gap in clinical care, and one of the ongoing issues is the lack of candid discussions around sexual health and offering guidance for potential PrEP prescribing or HIV testing for those in need. Some patients and clinicians may not be comfortable having these discussions around HIV and sexual health for fear of embarrassment or stigma.
“When it comes to sexuality and reproductive activity, which is also a very basic human need, it is the one thing that everyone does but no one talks about,” Angel I. Ribo, PA-C, MPAS, AAHIVS, DFAAPA, said. When people go to the primary care physician today, that topic is usually ignored.”
Trying to bridge this continuum of care gap in HIV education, POCN has launched the first-of-its-kind HIV Center of Excellence in February during HIV/AIDS Awareness Month. This website is the only free and all-encompassing resource for providers curated by practicing nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs). POCN is the largest medical network of NPs and PAs in the United States.
The Center of Excellence is designed to educate medical peers with the most up-to-date guidance and treatment resources. On the site are HIV resources including clinical guidelines, patient support and education resources, and up-to-date news research updates.
Ribo is a practicing PA in Daytona Beach, Florida with over 25 years of experience in HIV/AIDS and the Center of Excellence’s faculty advisor. Ribo is also the associate medical director at Outreach Community Care Network.
Education has been a paramount part of Ribo’s career. He was named the 2022 Educator of Distinction for HIV. “I humbly accept this on behalf of our team at Outreach Community Care Network who together help to make an incredible difference in our patient’s lives," Ribo stated after he won the award. "I also want to include and accept this award on behalf of our many NP/PA colleagues who labor every day in obscurity and too often without any appreciation for the work they perform on behalf of the most marginalized and forgotten in our community."
Contagion spoke to Ribo about the HIV Center of Excellence website, the importance of provider education, and how providers can “normalize” conversations with patients on sexual health matters.