If you can’t see a rheumatologist for all your RA care, look for one who will partner with your regular doctor. You will still need to see the rheumatologist occasionally, but your primary care doctor may handle your day-to-day treatment.
Nancy Hardin, age 71, of Dyersburg, Tenn., was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) 11 years ago. A few months after her diagnosis, she quit her teaching job at a local high school because she could barely walk. Then she started taking the biologic drug Remicade and became nearly symptom-free. Nevertheless, she decided that going back to the classroom would wear her out. She did, though, become a volunteer translator for local Spanish-speaking immigrants and a member of the Tennessee Council...
If it’s just not possible to see a rheumatologist, look for a primary care doctor who treats many people with RA.
How Do They Treat RA?
It’s important to treat your RA early to prevent joint damage. You need a doctor who is experienced in prescribing medicines to do that, even if your condition is mild now.
If you can't see a rheumatologist, then look for a doctor who has that know-how or who will work closely with someone who does.
Are You Comfortable Talking to Your Doctor?
It’s simple: You need to be able to tell your doctor what’s going on, and he should be able to communicate clearly to support you.
Your doctor should also help you better understand your RA, what to expect from treatment, and what complementary treatments might help or hurt your condition.
How Responsive Is He?
To make the best match, also think about:
The office staff. Are they considerate and helpful? Do they return your calls promptly? Because your time with your doctor may be limited, find out if your doctor works with other people who can help answer some of your questions.
Access. Can you get an appointment on short notice if you have an RA flare? How soon will the doctor return your calls or reply to your emails?
If you have a doctor who doesn't have all of the traits you would like, you may be able to improve the situation. Tell them how you feel, and ask for what you need.
If you are still unhappy, look for another doctor. Check with organizations such as the Arthritis Foundation or American College of Rheumatology for names of rheumatologists in your area. Ask your primary care doctor or friends.
Ask questions such as:
Is the doctor part of a group, or does he/she work independently?
Can I see the doctor of my choice, or must I see the first available doctor?
How long is the average wait for an appointment?
Does the doctor offer evening or weekend appointments?
Once you narrow your choices, make appointments to talk with each of your top choices. It will take some time and effort. But it's worth it to find a doctor who's a good fit for you.