It is vitally important for your long-term well-being to visit a rheumatologist for proper diagnosis and a treatment plan. The sooner intervention is started, the sooner the active disease can be slowed down.
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.
Your GP is the most likely person to refer you to a rheumatologist as you should have seen a GP when you first had symptoms. You may have a rheumatologist in mind who you would like to see, so if this is the case ask your GP to refer you to that one, otherwise they will refer you to one nearest where you live. If you are having financial difficulties you can see a rheumatologist through a public hospital, however this may involve a long wait. Some rheumatologists will bulk bill or have special lower payments for people who hold a concession card, and you can call around and ask this before getting your referral.
Who to ask?
Ask us! We will not name doctors publicly but you can chat to YWASG members about their experiences with different ones.
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 you may be able to get in sooner. Another thing to remember is that sometimes the first rheumatologist isn’t necessarily the one you will stay with. You need to be open to what their treatment plan is for you and give it some time but if after a year or two your condition has not improved or you are finding your relationship is not working then you should seek out a new one.
How to get the most out of your visit?
- 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.