Although research for a cure continues every day, those of us who have RA know that we will likely need to be under the care of a rheumatologist for the rest of our lives. But, because circumstances in our lives will inevitably change over the years, we may all someday find ourselves in the position of seeing a new rheumatologist for the first time. Maybe you moved to a new location and had to find a closer rheumatologist. Maybe you changed insurance and had to find a doctor who was covered in your network. Maybe you just didn’t like your old rheumatologist and wanted a second opinion. Regardless of your reasons or the number of years that you have lived with RA, changing rheumatologists can sometimes feel like a daunting task.
When I was diagnosed with RA almost six years ago, I was a law student who only had student health insurance. It was an ordinary primary care doctor at campus student health who provided me with a referral to a local rheumatologist. I wasn’t given any choice about the specialist I would see under my insurance. I was scared and in a lot of pain, so I just followed the instructions I was given.
Luckily, that particular rheumatologist turned out to be a completely amazing doctor. He supported me though my diagnosis and during the long and frustrating search for a treatment that worked for me. He listened to my concerns and provided me with resources to help me successfully complete law school. His care saw me through my wedding, my first pregnancy, and my adjustment to motherhood. And over the years I grew comfortable with him. Our communication improved to the point where our visits were quick and efficient. Effortless, almost.
However, my husband recently accepted a new job that required our family to make the switch to Kaiser insurance. And, with Kaiser insurance, I need to see a Kaiser rheumatologist. I have to admit that I was scared about the prospect of switching rheumatologists, especially considering my great relationship with the only other rheumatologist who had ever treated my RA. Somehow the idea of meeting a brand new doctor and explaining my history from the beginning reminded me of what things were like in the beginning – when I had just been diagnosed and I was full of doubt and confusion. I felt somewhat overwhelmed at the prospect of meeting this stranger and letting him into my life, hoping he would eventually become a partner I could trust to help me make the right decisions about my health.
I finally met my new rheumatologist this morning and I am happy to report that the appointment went very well! While it will obviously take some time to build the kind of relationship I had with my last rheumatologist, I am very hopeful that my new doctor will also listen to my concerns and provide the type of care and support that I need.
If you are in the position of meeting a new rheumatologist, here are some things to consider that might help:
- Allocate extra time, energy, and patience for your first appointment. When you meet a new doctor, remember that they are also meeting a new patient. They will need to ask you a bunch of questions that you have probably already been over 500 times with your old doctor (or old doctors). They will probably also need to do a thorough examination of your joints. It can often feel frustrating or overwhelming to go through old health history or to be poked and prodded all over, especially if it reminds you of rough periods of your life. However, this historical and baseline information is essential for your new doctor to properly understand you and the treatment you need, so try to be as patient as you can while you learn about each other.
- Write down a list of questions in advance. Meeting someone who is going to play a large role in your health, but who is currently a stranger, can feel overwhelming. When you are overwhelmed it can be really easy to forget all the questions you meant to ask. For this reason it can be really helpful to have a list of questions that you prepared in advance. That way you can glance at your list during the appointment to make sure you have covered everything you wanted to talk about. And it’s ok to take notes on your new doctor’s answers too!
- Be honest. Try to answer all of your new doctor’s questions as honestly as possible – don’t just tell them what you think they want to hear. Your new doctor will be able to help you more (and more quickly!) if you can be honest. So if you have opinions about certain types of treatments or past medications you have tried, be sure to share them when appropriate.
- Don’t forget to ask about logistics. If you are meeting a new doctor it is likely you are also dealing with new insurance – or at the very least a new medical practice. Don’t forget to ask any logistical questions that you might have. You may want to find out the best way to make an appointment, what you should do if you have issues that need immediate attention, and whether your new doctor and nurses can help with any insurance issues you may encounter.