VMS BioMarketing Clinical Educators Gear Up to Help Reduce HIV Risks

Healthcare provider education aimed at preventing opioid-related HIV outbreaks

INDIANAPOLIS, May 2, 2018 (Newswire.com) - VMS BioMarketing in partnership with The Damien Center — Indiana's oldest and largest AIDS service organization — trained a group of 25 educators to implement HIV education programs for healthcare providers and other community professionals in its home state of Indiana. The program developed to increase awareness, understanding, and use of testing and treatment services, is aimed at reducing the spread of HIV among Hoosiers.

In 2015, the worst drug-fueled HIV epidemic to hit rural America occurred in the small town of Austin in southern Indiana putting the state in the spotlight nationally.

One of the first people to respond was William Cooke, M.D., Austin's sole physician who found himself at the center of an outbreak that quickly brought attention and assistance from state and national disease specialists.

Since then, Dr. Cooke has made it his mission to not only stop the outbreak but also to bring all 230 reported cases to a healthy state of being "undetectable" for HIV.

Among other experienced HIV professionals, Dr. Cooke came to the VMS training to share his successes and lessons learned with the group of clinical educators. "The driving force of stopping the spread of HIV in Austin was education and decreasing barriers to care," said Cooke.

VMS clinical educators will be armed to do just that throughout the state with three imperatives to help professionals:

  1. Identify patients at risk for HIV.
  2. Engage in difficult screening conversations with patients.
  3. Connect newly identified HIV-positive patients to social support services located within the state.

Although the Austin HIV outbreak is under control, portions of Indiana are still highly vulnerable to another outbreak occurring. In fact, according to a report published by the Centers for Disease Control1, Indiana is home to 10 of the 220 US counties identified as the most vulnerable to a rapid spread of HIV or HCV infections among people who inject drugs.

"For the past few decades, we have been successful in implementing more than one million healthcare provider and patient education programs. We believe the key to making those programs impactful is equipping our educators with the most recent information and useful data available," said Andrea Heslin Smiley, president and CEO of VMS BioMarketing. "Having Dr. Cooke share his experience with us was invaluable and inspiring. We plan to start in our own backyard by educating healthcare providers on how to effectively recognize and screen high-risk patients and connect them to supportive care services."

According to Cooke, the way to change the standard of care starts with changing the conversation. "Any community is at risk. HIV spreads through sexual encounters and needle sharing. We know the national opioid epidemic spares no demographic — every person from middle school and up is at risk of injecting drugs with our current opioid epidemic. We cannot know which of our patients are at risk unless we ask direct questions and screen. Unless we are looking, we are going to miss it."

Cooke would know; since 2015 he has moved his community from "ground zero" of the outbreak, to having more than 70 percent of the HIV-positive patients become undetectable through needle exchange programs, proper testing, and therapy. "Our patients are not incompetent or irresponsible. They were just not educated or informed on the adverse effects of injecting drugs. Once we were able to educate and inform them, they took responsibility for their own health, which in turn has impacted the health of our community."

"When it comes to patient and healthcare provider education, we know that real behavioral change begins with a relationship-based approach that takes practicing clinicians who are connected to their communities and can effectively motivate and engage people," added Smiley.

Educators will kick off the program this spring throughout the state with hopes to expand the program to other areas of the country.

1 Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2016 November 01