Finding a New Health Manager
After living with rheumatoid arthritis for many years I’ve collected a number of additional related or complicating conditions to manage. I found myself circulating between several specialists to oversee my health and wondering why my internal medicine or general practitioner wasn’t attempting to keep abreast of these issues. Instead, I was tracking these aspects of my health (to the best of my ability) and updating my rheumatologist during appointments.
Recently I decided to make the move and switch to a new general practitioner. I set up the first appointment to have a full physical and to basically interview the doctor. My wish came true when she stated upfront that she wanted to receive updates from my other specialists and position herself to manage my overall health.
I could have cried with joy! Little did I realize how it weighed on me—how I worried that something was getting missed because I felt no one was looking at “the whole picture.” It felt good that she asked for the updates I could share about recent appointments, take a look at all my prescriptions together and think about any basic health tests to order.
So often I’m thinking about my CRP, liver functions or other RA-related indicators that standard health tests fall by the wayside. While I need to manage my RA, failing to properly take care of other pieces of my health could be disastrous.
For example, patients with RA can be at greater risk of various cancers and heart disease. So I spoke to my new internal doc about my risk for heart disease and preventative steps I can take early. Monitoring for cancer is also important because previously I had some close calls with several moles that were eventually found not to be cancerous, but to be proactive I see a dermatology specialist three times a year for monitoring my skin.
Eye problems can occur more frequently with people who have RA, especially in conjunction with some medications. Regular eye checkups are a good idea for these reasons.
Two other specialists that I see are the orthopedic surgeon to monitor my artificial joints and a podiatrist for my feet. The RA has attacked my joints aggressively so maintaining what I have has become very important. Walking already is a challenge and maintaining the health of my feet supports my ability to walk safely.
Add in the allergist and the dentist (don’t underestimate the long term benefits of good dental health), we’re now amassing a significant list of specialists! Now the real test comes—will they share updates with my new internal doc? The challenges of sharing records between doctors are significant due to security and privacy issues. For lack of better options, it often falls to me to bridge the gap in information.
My hope is that the initiative of my new physician will help with collecting and maintaining my various health records. I’m happy and relieved to have a doctor looking at my whole health, in conjunction with the narrowed view of my specialists. While I value the focus of my specialists, I don’t want the bigger health picture to get lost along the way.
Sometimes it seems like a lot to manage—RA and then all the other little issues that seem to hop on the train. Sometimes other “surprises” like fluke infections have popped up suddenly—shingles, ear infection, bronchitis etc. I can get overwhelmed, shuttling between appointments and doctors.
Yet I have to keep up with my health and remind myself that proactively tracking issues with regular visits can prevent even bigger problems down the road. A good GP to help with all of this could be a great thing.
When was your last flare?