Finding a Rheumatologist
It is vitally important for your long-term well-being to visit a rheumatologist very soon after your arthritis is diagnosed. The sooner intervention is started, the sooner the active disease can be slowed down.
So many people tell stories of doctors telling them, “It’s only arthritis, nothing to do but take paracetamol”. This is totally untrue, even for people with osteoarthritis. A holistic view of the condition will provide many avenues for improving your health and long-term management – that is, how you will cope with the condition over many years.
Most people will get on the net once diagnosed; seeking information and clues to their possible future. This is a double-edged sword; there certainly is a lot of information out there, but much of it, especially anecdotal (individual people writing about their experiences) will relate to their circumstances and how they responded to various treatments. You cannot be sure that what helped one person will help you. If you read twenty stories from twenty people you will probably find advice from one that is completely contradicted by another person.
Your GP is the most likely person to refer you to a specialist. If he/she is unwilling to do this, ask them why and urge them to at least refer you to the rheumatology department of a public hospital. This may involve a long wait, so if funds permit, ask around for good local rheumatologists practising privately in your general area and ask for a referral to that person.
In my experience, many do not charge huge consulting fees; realizing that the relationship will likely go on for many years and you will be a regular “patient” for a long time.
Who to ask? Ask us! We will not name individual people publicly but we can talk with each other about our experiences.
Ask the Australian Rheumatology Association on (02) 9256 5458 or visit www.rheumatology.org.au. They have lists of practising rheumatologists in each state and can provide contact numbers. You can also search by name, suburb, area of special interest and even a number of international locations such as the UK and US.
What to look for? Someone who is sympathetic and listens to your story. Someone who inspires confidence with their knowledge and experience. Someone with whom you feel comfortable and can reach agreement on possible treatments – some are more conservative; some are keen to explore experimental therapies; it will depend on you which way you will prefer to go. Bear in mind that some rheumatologists are not taking new patients. BUT if you participate in a trial or study that they are conducting, you may be able to transfer your care to that person.
How to get the most out of your visit? Arthritis Victoria recommends:
- Think about, and write down, the questions you want to ask before your visit.
- Always take x-rays and test results related to your condition to the consultation.
- Consider taking a family member or friend with you as a second set of ears.
- Ask your doctor or health professional to explain any information that you did not understand.
- Feel free to ask questions, especially about the benefits, side effects and costs of treatments.
- Tell your doctor or health professional if you need time to think or to discuss something with family members.
- Write down any important information or instructions that you are given.
- Ask your doctor or health professional where you can learn more about your condition or treatment.
The main thing to remember is, you are not alone; there are people who can help you deal with your situation. And the vast majority of people diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis continue to lead positive, productive lives by learning to manage their condition.