Questions to Ask a New Rheumatologist

I've been lucky enough to have had care with the same rheumatologist for the last 8 years, covering my diagnostic odyssey, medication trials, and luckily, now, several years of remission from my rheumatoid arthritis.

In fact, during most of the last decade, I've had all of my specialists working out of the same hospital system. For the most part, they communicated well together, and they were usually willing to work together and consult each other with questions, especially about symptoms. However, during the time since both the pandemic and narrative medicine have taken medical care by storm, I've been radically disappointed by the emergency room and in-hospital admission care I've been receiving up until this time.

Identifying a new care team for my RA treatment

I moved to a new hospital network a few months ago to start treatment with a primary care doctor that could offer something that was more like concierge medical care. As you probably know from reading my articles here for a while, I don't necessarily struggle to advocate for myself; it's more that I struggle with the coordinating of care piece, the finding referrals, the getting into those referrals, and the asinine wait time to see those referrals and everything that goes with being a complex medical patient in the 2020s.

Once I found myself in a new network, I found there were several options for rheumatologists that specialized in RA. This wasn't new to me — I was coming from a rather large network, too — but I was surprised at how overwhelming it was and how much mental work it was going to take to sift through everything that I was finding online.

The selection process

To start, I used some patient rating and feedback sites, comparing what I saw with the doctors that were highly recommended and ranked academically and socially. I thought about both my past medical trauma and the way I would need this provider to interact closely with all of my new providers, so I even sent a message around asking my new doctors if they knew any of my top 3 choices and would or would not recommend them.

Finally, I chose to schedule 2 introduction appointments. One provider allowed me to do this virtually, which was a huge advantage to me as someone who doesn't regularly feel well, lives far from these specific medical offices, and has a 4-year-old and a job schedule to attend to. The other provider I drove to meet at their office. It took me about 98 minutes roundtrip.

Questions I asked my potential new rheumatologists

The 2 appointments were similar, content-wise — I asked derivatives of all the questions below:

  1. Why did you choose rheumatology?
  2. What's the most fascinating thing you've experienced in the field?
  3. What about the most heartbreaking thing?
  4. What gets you out of bed each day and back in the office or with patients?
  5. What's the easiest way to get in contact with you? How long is your typical response time?
  6. How has the pandemic changed the way you moderate RA patients' disease activity while keeping them safe and often out of your office?
  7. Do you appreciate or resent patients who are heavily engaged in their testing, disease conversation, and treatment options?

How do you decide on a new rheumatologist or care team?

Overall, I know in my heart both doctors would've been fine to work with, but I felt more at ease with the demeanor of the physician I met via telehealth. They not only answered my questions, but it felt like they were giving me kudos on doing what I had to do — which, in that moment, was to be a professional patient.

What has switching rheumatologists or starting with a new specialist been like for you? What questions do you ask a new healthcare professional?

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