The Importance of Seeing Specialists

The expertise and skills of medical specialists are crucial for managing rheumatoid arthritis and related conditions. A perfect example is that when I was diagnosed as a child, it wasn’t until a pediatrician referred me to a rheumatologist that my illness was correctly recognized. The doctor knew that I was ill, but pinning it down to a specific diagnosis and identifying treatment depended on a rheumatologist.

Some internal medicine practitioners or family doctors believe they have enough expertise to treat RA patients, but I definitely disagree. Over the years, my GPs (general practitioners) have usually been great, but they have been puzzled when I get unusual RA symptoms, side effects, or co-morbid conditions. It’s a matter of training, but also experience seeing RA patients.

Specialists have been essential to my RA treatment

While a GP is important for managing my overall health and seeing the big picture across all the specialists that I need to see, they don’t have the background of a specialist. I prefer that they keep their eye on the ball and my overall health as I age because no one else on my health team is thinking this way! I want a GP who will see the things the specialists will not and who will consider my long-term health.

RA brings about tricky health situations

Recently, I was reminded again about the importance of specialists because of a health crisis that landed me in the hospital with a fungal skin infection. Only after I was able to see my dermatologist a couple weeks later did we determine that the underlying cause of the skin infection was something called inverse psoriasis (a rare form of psoriasis, affecting only about 3 to 7% of psoriasis patients). When I followed up with my infectious disease doctor (who was terrific, by the way) he said he had never heard of that and was glad the dermatologist was able to biopsy my skin and figure it out.

My specialist team came together for my needs

In order to resolve this health crisis I needed my rheumatologist (who recognized I was infectious and saw the danger due to my compromised immune system), infectious disease doctor (who identified the fungal infection and treated it aggressively), dermatologist (who biopsied and determined the infection came about from untreated inverse psoriasis), and the hospitalist (who managed my overall care while in the hospital). Each vantage point was needed to apply expertise and eventually resolve the crisis.

Specialists treat my RA within the context of their expertiseThroughout my life, I have seen different specialists, some once a year or so and others for short periods of time. I really would have found managing my health difficult if I hadn’t been able to access these various experts on my health.They are experts in their fieldsI think it is important to have specialists with years of training on a group of conditions or an area of the body. For example, my podiatrist asks me questions that no other doctor considers. He also makes me think about the importance of treating my feet well and maintaining foot health in the context of my RA. After all, without happy feet, I would find it very difficult to get through my day.They've spent additional time seeing patients within in their specialitiesAdditionally, I respect the hours that specialists have spent meeting with patients. Of course, this starts in the medical school years, but also continues through residency and often fellowships to hone the knowledge and skills in their specialty area. It’s often time with patients that cultivates experience identifying common problems (or rare ones!) and co-occurring conditions.I often think about how, while I don’t have the medical training, I do have lots of experience with RA! But there’s also a lot I don’t know about related conditions and issues that can pop up. That’s why I will always seek the expertise of specialists when I need them. 

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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