15 Tips for Seeing a New Rheumatologist- Your First Visit
I have written before about finding a new rheumatologist, but what about your first visit to your new rheumatologist? Here are 15 tips for when you’re done doctor shopping and ready to try them on:
Keep in mind that every doctor works differently and each person presents their disease differently.
- Arrive early and assess the waiting room. If you have a hard time sitting up for the duration of your wait or you find the chairs to be causing you discomfort and pain, kindly ask the office staff if there is any alternative or a room available for you to lay down in.
- Try to find the new patient paperwork online. Lots of practices will have websites with printable forms. This will save you time in the waiting room and hopefully get you in and out faster. Also helps if you have a difficult time with painful hands and writing pages of paperwork at a time! You can also call the doctor’s office and ask them to fax or mail you the forms.
- Bring all necessary insurance information and your insurance card
- Make a Health Information Sheet— write a list of all your symptoms and considering including date/period of onset and note which ones are the most severe and how they have changed over time (try to keep these notes short), current medications/vitamins/supplements with the actual dosages and how often you take them, current medical history: any diagnoses/diseases/conditions and treatment for them, current physicians with contact information, family history, your personal contact information and your emergency contact’s information. Also list any current or past treatments for anything rheumatology-related. Make three or four copies of this sheet and allow your doctor to have one for your chart. This makes taking your history significantly easier for the nurses/physicians in the office. I also suggest giving one to your emergency contact person and carrying one with you at all times in your wallet in case of emergency. Keep it updated as your health changes.
- Consider your symptoms in detail and be honest about them. Be prepared for questions about when your symptoms started, how they have changed over time, what makes them worse and what makes them better, if they are exacerbated by physical activity, etc. Do you have fevers? When do they spike? When do they break? Do they come with chills/sweats? Be honest when discussing symptoms, no matter how embarrassing or uncomfortable it may be to discuss things like your sexual history or bowel movements. If it weren’t important, your doctor wouldn’t ask!
- Make a mental (or literal) note of how your symptoms impact your daily life and what tasks seem to be most difficult. This is a common question on symptom forms and from the doctor too.
- Put together a list of concerns/questions and make sure you ask all of them, and continue to ask questions as your rheumatologist goes along. Don’t hold back your questions even if asking so many questions makes you feel insecure— it’s crucial to your health that you completely understand what is discussed in the appointment and you leave feeling like you have a clear idea of what’s going on. Make sure you leave understanding the doctor’s general consensus and plan of action— what is the next step? Treatment plan, if any? Lab results, if any? What is the diagnosis or suspected diagnosis, if any? Make sure you leave feeling informed.
- Bring any relevant medical records from other doctors and make a copy for yourself to keep as well.
- Bring a notebook and take notes! If you feel comfortable with someone else being with you throughout the appointment, have someone with you to take notes or jot down important info as you meet/talk with the physician. The appointments can be overwhelming, of course, and sometimes it’s hard to remember everything when you’re not feeling well, in pain, and overwhelmed. Having someone to write down important information, or doing so yourself, is a huge help.
- Prepare for a long appointment. The first consult is generally a lengthy one, so dress in comfortable clothing and prepare to put aside a few hours of your day. Bring something to keep you busy in the waiting room. Chances are, you will spend a decent amount of time with this new doctor going over your entire medical history. You may also be asked to have labs drawn or x-rays done right there on site, so prepare accordingly and find out if you need to be fasting before your labs are done. Consider driving/transportation arrangements if you know that you will be unable to drive yourself after a long day. Bring a small snack and a bottle of water.
- Expect to be poked and prodded. If you’re being examined for joint involvement, the doctor will more than likely examine you and lightly press on/move various parts of your body. Your doctor will likely use a stethoscope and listen to your heart/lungs and bowels. They may or may not palpate your abdomen. Anticipate being asked to wear a gown and consider appropriate clothing in case you do have to change into a gown.
- Avoid wearing nail polish or covering up rashes with make up. Rheumatologists look at the skin and nails. Make up and nail polish can conceal significant physical findings that make a difference when seeking a diagnosis.
- Always ask for a copy of any blood/lab results after they come in and if no one calls you with the results after a week, call them. Doctors mix up labs all the time— having a copy is key, really.
- Finding a rheumatologist is a lot like dating. They might be super smart and well educated, but a poor communicator. They might be super nice, but not the greatest at looking at the whole picture. If you don’t feel comfortable with the doctor after your visit, if you feel disrespected or are not taken seriously, don’t be afraid to find another one. Your health is yours to take care of; don’t be afraid to doctor shop until you’re confident that you’re in the best possible hands. Some tips on Finding Doctor Right here.
- Best the best patient you can be. What does that mean? Find the balance between being an advocate for yourself (asking questions, voicing concerns) while still remaining respectful and courteous to your doctor(s) and office staff.
Best of luck!