A bearded man holding a clipboard points to a row of doctors

Tips for Being Selective about Your Physician, Part 1

Last updated: April 2020

Finding a new doctor when you have RA sucks, let’s be honest. But, it’s a tried and true part of living with arthritis, autoimmune illness, or any chronic illness. Unfortunately, not every doctor out there is a superstar, and many just give up halfway through when trying to find a medicine that works.

Tips on how to choose a new doctor

At that point, you need to start thinking about making a change and, after thirty years or so, I have figured out a few tips that might help.

You know what – we’ll divide this article into two parts since I don’t think it’ll be possible to cover everything in one installment. That being said, you can take one or all of these tips to heart. But I assure you they were all hard-won, distilled over many years and MANY failures, so without further ado, let’s dig in.

Find a doctor that listens and prioritizes your concerns

First thing to remember is that your doctors are not your parents! That’s right: doctors can’t take away your phone, doctors can’t kick out your boyfriend, and doctors can’t induce soul-crushing disappointment with one look, you know, THAT look.

Doctors didn’t create you (unless you had a really weird childhood from an ‘80s movie) so that otherworldly power your progenitors have to make you do things, using only the power of bowel-quivering guilt, doesn’t carry over to physicians. (Unless your parents are doctors, in which case, well, you’re pretty much screwed so you can stop reading right now.)

You are allowed to express your concerns

For everyone else, though, you are allowed to tell your doctor “No!,” and refuse to do anything you don’t feel comfortable with. Now, I know that many docs like to come into the exam room and lay down the law like some Olympian god slummin’ it on Earth, and before you can even get a word out, they are shooing you through the door.

Instead, say, “No!” and then don’t go! Put your foot down! Tell your doctor you have issues that need to be addressed and you are unhappy with the way the treatment is going. If he or she doesn’t immediately address your concerns, then it’s time to release the Kraken, aka, hit the road!

Don't let fear prevent you from asking questions

As a general rule of thumb, you shouldn’t leave more than three dates with your doctor unsatisfied - your medical care isn’t someone you met on Tinder. I know physicians can be intimidating, and they rely on that inherent “white coat fear” to prevent you from asking questions. Don’t fall for it – they are just regular old humans underneath those lab coats – regular humans who get road rage, stub their toes on the coffee table in the dark, and make mistakes at work (aka your body). Speak up.

Do accurate research on your condition before seeing a doctor

Ok, next, make sure you do your research before going to any doctor’s appointments. You have to advocate for yourself when you have an autoimmune illness, and having a nice, thick, base of luscious romaine knowledge-lettuce underneath your salad of wisdom is much better than a few soggy guess-fronds of iceberg.

Now, if that overly complicated metaphor doesn’t do it for you, the crux is that you can’t know if something you’re being told is wrong if you don’t know what’s right in the first place! If your rheumatologist suddenly starts talking about the “bad humors” in your joints and recommends a good leeching session to drain the “viscous bile,” how can you know that isn’t a real thing?

Accurate information and common sense

You must have your own stock of information (and common sense) to draw from so you know when your MD is a real doctor and not a “Dr. Dre” style doctor. Now, I know some of you are saying right now, “I’d totally know if something was fake.” Unfortunately, it’s almost never as obviously absurd as the above example. Don’t think this really happens? Well… (this next story is why I used the qualifier “almost” above).

Recognize situations that don't feel right

Early in my teens, as we were still figuring out all the ins and outs of RA, my mother took me to a nutritionist – something that, in and of itself, isn’t crazy at all. The insane part happened during the “examination,” when the “doctor” had me hold rice and other grain in my hands, with my arms out at my side. She then explained that if my “aura” was “weak” in a certain food, she’d be able to press my arm down because the rice or beans would “sap the strength from my spirit.”

Yup, that day I took the express bus to ludicrous speed with no stops at crazy town or even questionable-but-not-totally-insane city, and it all happened, for real, exactly like I said. As you can imagine, we packed up and got the heck out of there as fast as politely possible, explaining that my “aura” had another appointment elsewhere on the astral plane, and we didn’t want to be late. Or early. Or invisible. (Not really sure what proper etiquette is on the astral plane.)

Choosing a new doctor is a process

These are just the first two things you can put into your knowledge banks when it comes to making decisions if a doctor is right for you, or if it’s time to seek a second opinion. Or seek a new doctor. Or get a tinfoil hat - whatever you choose, these tips should help you start the thought process necessary to get into the mindset that you deserve more from your medical staff.

It’s not easy, I know, and it’s a huge schlep. But don’t let apathy affect your health! Next time, in part two, we’ll cover two more tips that should help you further narrow down the field. Talk soon!

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