If your doctor recently diagnosed you with multiple sclerosis (MS), you’ll want to find a health care team that meets your needs. Your doctors will help answer your questions and provide care to keep you healthy. One of the members on your care team includes an MS specialist.
This expert has a deep knowledge of MS. They can provide you with more information and care than your general doctor.
What Is a MS Specialist?
Your MS specialist will most likely be a neurologist. Neurologists are either Doctors of Medicine (MD) or Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) who have completed residencies in neurology. They’ll have a broad understanding of diseases that involve your nervous system (such as MS).
It’s important that your neurologist has further training or experience in the treatment of MS. While general neurologists are highly skilled, they may not have specific knowledge in MS like a specialist does.
One study found that general neurologists didn’t tend to start treatment as soon as MS specialists, were more likely to switch treatment faster than a specialist, and didn’t consider other helpful follow-up care as often as specialists did.
Other members of your care team may be MDs or DOs who are trained in family medicine, internal medicine, or other specialties such as physical medicine and rehabilitation.
Nurse practitioners and physician assistants may also be involved in helping implement your treatment plan and helping you to live your healthiest life.
How Can an MS Specialist Help You?
In addition to your general doctor, your MS specialist can give you extra care for your condition. They can:
- Personalize your MS care to your specific wants and needs.
- Notify you when there are new medications or treatments for MS.
- Alert you if there is a new clinical trial for MS.
- Care for your emotional health and rehabilitation.
- Consider your family’s well-being during your treatment.
- Help you return to a desirable level of function.
- Help you meet your fitness goals.
- Provide you with information about alternative and complementary medicine.
How Can You Find an MS Specialist?
You can ask your general doctor to recommend you to an MS specialist. Another option is to speak with an MS navigator. These professionals can help you locate resources and information about your condition. They’ll guide you through your individual MS diagnosis and connect you with a medical specialist who fits your needs.
If you want to do your own research to find a specialist, you can visit websites specially created for people with MS. These sites can provide you support during your search for a specialist that fits your needs:
- National Multiple Sclerosis Society
- Multiple Sclerosis Association of America
- Multiple Sclerosis Foundation
During your search, consider a few things about your specialist:
- Does this expert have specialized training in MS?
- How long have they treated MS?
- Are they involved in MS research?
- Does this specialist take your insurance?
- Is this specialist in a convenient location for you?
What Should You Ask Your MS Specialist?
Once you’ve found a specialist, it’s important to ask them questions to ensure they’re a good fit. Either before or at your first appointment, you might want to ask:
- How many people do they treat with MS? Do they spend a large portion of their time with people who have the condition?
- Can this specialist help guide you to other experts (for example, if you require emotional care, need a driving evaluation, or want to visit a specialist for other health issues)?
- Is there someone (if not the specialist themselves) that can help you organize your lab work, MRIs, results, and referrals?
- Will you be able to join in on MS research if you choose?
- Is their office accessible for you?
- What materials should you bring in? Do you need to collect any MRI scans, lab reports, or a list of medications you take?
- Who will be able to help in case your specialist isn’t available?
It’s also important that you get along with your specialist. Keep these things in mind at your first appointment:
- Do you feel comfortable with this doctor?
- How do they react when you ask about something you’re not familiar with?
- Do they make sure to keep you involved in your care? For example, do they explain specifics about medications or other treatments?
- Are they OK if you record or take notes at your appointments?
- What is your specialist’s view on lifestyle, nutrition, and exercise? Does it match with yours?
It’s important that you find a specialist who fulfills your needs. If you’re not sure about a doctor, remember that it’s OK to switch to a new one that makes you more comfortable during your MS treatment.