Choosing Your Rheumatologist Wisely

There are a number of reasons you might need a new rheumatologist – maybe you just moved to a new location. Maybe you’ve had a recent injury or been recently diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and you need the right specialists to help you along the way. Perhaps you just need a change in personalities. Whatever the reason, it’s important your rheumatologist is a good fit for your personality, condition, and circumstances. Feeling comfortable with your health workers can ease what can be a stressful process of healing or treatment. With this in mind, here are five ways to evaluate your prospective rheumatologists before choosing the right fit for you:

1. Find a Specialist. Rheumatology is its own category of medicine that focuses on the treatment of autoimmune diseases that involve pain. However, within that field, rheumatologists can specialize in RA. It’s important to find a rheumatologist who specializes in your condition to get the best treatment. You can start this process with your primary doctor. Unfortunately, because of insurance limitations and lack of local rheumatologists, patients with RA can’t always get to a rheumatology office on a regular basis. In these cases, your doctor may be able to treat your arthritis on a regular basis in conjunction with less regular trips to the rheumatologist.

Check the reputation of the physician or practice. Your doctor can make recommendations, and there are a number of online resources you can use to gauge the reputation of health care professionals. Directories such as HealthGrades, RateMDs or compile online reviews of physicians. You can always ask around, as well – friends, neighbors, or relatives with RA are likely well versed in your local options.

2. Evaluate the Office. Now that you’ve done your homework, schedule an appointment with a place you feel might be a good fit. Make sure to listen: Call them on the phone to schedule. Was the staff helpful and courteous? Did you feel they had good customer service? Try and get a feeling for the wait time when scheduling an appointment. If you have to wait several weeks or months to see your doctor, they might be close to capacity for patients.

3. Observe During Your Visit. Now you’re in the office for your visit – see if the staff still seems helpful. Time your waits to see the doctor – first in the waiting room, then once they bring you back for your procedure or visit.

4. Talk to your Doctor about Your Condition. This should go without saying, but you will want to be prepared with specific questions about arthritis and your specific case. Your doctor should be happy to answer questions, but you will need to be the one to ask them. The more information you can gain about your rheumatoid arthritis and your treatment options.

Research has shown that treating rheumatoid arthritis early and aggressively can avoid future joint damage. Your doctor should discuss treatment and how to avoid later problems. Even mild RA sufferers can take disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) to slow down your RA.

Overall, think about your experience throughout the entire process. Did you feel well-served, comfortable, and cared for? If not, this could be a red flag, and a sign of how things will go in the future. Of course, choosing a new doctor or clinic is a painstaking process – but if you’ve done it right, it will save innumerable headaches and stress (not to mention joint paint) further down the road in your treatment of RA.
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