A woman looking at her phone describing her pain levels to her doctor.

Dealing with Your Physicians

There are many comments and questions on Rheumatoidarthritis.net about how to manage MD appointments, especially when we feel we are not being heard. Also, there are questions about finding quality MDs. As a patient and an RN, I would like to share some suggestions.

Patient education for rheumatoid arthritis care

Concise information about your condition & treatment

You don’t have to understand medical lingo to converse with your doctor. Instead, you need to concentrate your efforts on being concise and relevant. As much as we would like our doctor to listen to our whole life story since the last visit, you will lose your doctor’s attention very quickly.

What your doctor really wants to know is how is this illness affecting your life and has the treatment improved your life.

Prepare for the medical visit

Begin preparing for the next visit as soon as the current one is complete. Have a note pad or note application on your phone for the next visit. Every time you think of a question or note a symptom, put it in your notes.

Organizing your notes

The day before your visit, review your notes. Revise your notes in this pattern:

1. Symptoms. List each symptom and how it limits your daily function. Be specific and concise. Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) are the aspects MDs are most interested in. ADLs include bathing/showering, eating, drinking, dressing, toileting, transportation, shopping. If you list your symptoms in relation to the ADL they most impact, your MD will pay attention. For example:

  • My fatigue is so bad that I can only shower once a week and I need a 2-hour nap every day.
  • My pain is so bad that I cannot dress myself.
  • I used to be able to get my mail, but I can't walk to the mailbox anymore.

2. Questions. Think of your questions as bullet points that relate to your symptoms or treatment. For example: My pain is worse and I can no longer write. Is it time to change meds?

3. If you are uncomfortable speaking with your doctor, print out your symptoms and questions and hand it to the doctor. Make a copy for yourself.

4. Leave room after every note to write answers.

5. Keep your note/answer sheet with the date, so that you can compare for your next visit. This not only allows comparison between visits but also allows you to compare last year to this year and begin noticing patterns.

Finding a quality doctor

Finding a rheumatologist is difficult at best. Even more difficult is finding a quality rheumatologist who is accepting patients. The following are steps that have been successful for me.

  1. Start with your insurance company and get their list of participating providers.
  2. Pull up their local websites and study their credentials. Make sure they are board-certified in rheumatology.
  3. Call the office manager and ask about years of practice and specific bedside manners.
  4. Ask your primary care physician and your nurse friends for a recommendation. Ask them, “Which doctor would you see or have your mother see?” I find that question gets the best results.

Please let us know how you deal with these issues. The more information, the better!

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