No. 3 - Find a Rheumatologist You Trust

Last updated: September 2020

This is the third of ten things I’d like to go back and tell my newly diagnosed self about living with RA.

One of the first things that happened soon after I was diagnosed was that I changed doctors. The doctor that I first went to is a highly esteemed clinician. However, it was apparent that he and his staff didn’t really respect the patients. His new-patient appointments were scheduled between 4:00 am and 7:00 am (yes, in the morning), and the third time I had an 11:00 am appointment and didn’t get into to see the doctor until after 4:00 in the afternoon, I gave up and switched doctors. They actually had a sign in the lobby that said that if you are unable to wait for your appointment, perhaps you should find a new doctor, so I did.

To me, them not caring about my time meant that they didn’t care about me as a person.

I know that some doctors might see me as a difficult patient. I have “failed” on every biologic except one. Even though I might have visibly swollen joints, my labs always come back blazingly normal. I believe in being an informed patient who voices an opinion on my healthcare. So it takes a special physician to work with me and my situation.

A good relationship with your doctor is key

In my opinion, your relationship with your doctor should be a lot like the relationship with a spouse. You not only need to find the right partner, you need to be the right partner. It takes both of you to be successful.

What makes it work for me, and I recommend this for everyone, is to be honest with your doctor. My doctor believes me when I tell her that I’m not doing well because I also tell her when I’m doing better. I come to my appointments prepared with questions and concerns so that we can use the time to best advantage. By being a true partner with my doctor we’ve built a level of trust that is invaluable in managing a long-term chronic condition.

Granted, finding the right doctor may not be as easy as it seems. I live in a large metropolitan area with a number of really great rheumatologists who take my insurance. People who live in a more rural area, who have limited in-network doctors or get their health care through provided care such as the Veterans’ Administration may have more limited choices. But build as good of a relationship as you can with your doctor because it’s to your benefit over the long run.

Searching for a good doctor

A good place to start your search is with a doctor you already have and like, such as your primary care physician. Have them refer you. If you know someone who goes to a rheumatologist, ask their input about the doctor and staff. Finally, check with your insurance company. They will have a listing of in-network doctors. From there you can often find additional information about the doctor online.

There are a lot of ways to view your rheumatologist. I have a lot of respect, personally and professionally, for mine. But in many ways I see RA as a journey and my doctor as my travel agent. I need someone who cares if I show up at the right destination with my luggage.

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