November 01, 2022
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Collage design by Ryan Hamsher; Photo contributed by Stefanie Remson
Welcome to From Practitioner to Patient, a column by Stefanie Remson about living with arthritis. Stefanie is both a nurse practitioner and a patient living with RA. She’s here to share what she’s learned from her own experiences as a patient and to demystify the medical side of navigating arthritis through her knowledge as a nurse practitioner.
It’s estimated that 47% of healthcare workers plan to leave their current role by 2025. The American Medical Association refers to this time as “medicine’s great resignation.”
The American College of Rheumatology was already preparing for the rheumatologist shortage in 2019. Several different initiatives have been implemented, such as increasing the number of nurse practitioners.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also made recruitment and retention more challenging.
So, as a patient living with a rheumatic disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), or psoriatic arthritic (PsA), you might be faced with trying to find a new rheumatologist at some point in your care. But how do you navigate finding a new rheumatologist?
If you’ve been seeing your rheumatologist (aka rheumy) for a long time, you may have developed a close relationship with them. You have likely shared the ups and downs of your life with them. They may have been there for you at times when life felt unbearable.
For many people, this bond is very strong. Your rheumy can even feel like family.
When you first hear that your rheumy is leaving town, leaving the practice, or retiring, it can seem devastating. You may feel alone, scared, and have anxiety about where to go next.
There’s an added layer of panic to avoid any lapses in current therapies, treatments, and prescriptions.
These are all natural responses. It’s normal to grieve the loss of your rheumy.
Finding a new rheumy can be scary. But try to see it as a new opportunity. It’s a fresh set of eyes for your medical care. This can be exciting! You may even be offered other treatments and opportunities for care that you didn’t have before. Keep an open mind in the process.
Once you’re ready to start looking for a new rheumy, where do you start?
The internet is usually the first place everyone starts. But this is typically not ideal.
The medical world hasn’t yet melded with the marketing expertise of the internet. Medical practices rely on other methods to advertise.
The handful of medical providers that are well-established online only represents a small percentage of those available.
Maybe in the near future the internet will be a great place to read reviews, find more information, and even schedule appointments, but for now, this is typically not the best place to start.
If you have the opportunity to ask your current rheumy who they recommend, do it.
This is probably the best place to obtain recommendations for many reasons. Your current provider knows you, your medical history, and also the style and practices of the other provider.
They may be able to communicate easily and effectively with the provider, which makes sharing medical records simpler.
They may have an arrangement in place to avoid any gaps in your treatment plan. They might even have insight into the personality of the providers and can refer you to someone who you’ll have good chemistry with.
Your rheumy won’t want to leave you without care, so don’t hesitate to ask them for recommendations.
The American College of Rheumatology is another great resource. You can see who is actively speaking at events and doing research here, too.
This link, sponsored by Abbvie, is also helpful in searching for rheumatologists by geographical area and distance.
You can ask for recommendations from other people with the same health conditions. If you already attend a support group, you can ask the other attendees.
There are message boards, apps, and social media groups that provide open forums to ask questions and get recommendations. The Arthritis Foundation, Live Yes!, has some great ways to connect with others both locally and nationally.
The Facebook group, Women with Rheumatoid Disease, is another great place to start when looking for recommendations.
It’s important to call your insurance company.
Obtain a list of who’s in-network before scheduling an appointment. It’s also useful to know if a new referral is necessary to see the new provider.
If you identify a potential rheumy, be sure to call their office and confirm whether they’re taking new patients.
If they are taking new patients, ask what the wait time is to be seen. Sometimes waiting 6 to 9 months to be seen may not be feasible for you and your health condition.
If you need to be seen sooner than this, simply ask. Remember, a little bit of kindness goes a long way in these unprecedented times.
Before scheduling an appointment, consider the location of the office. Will you be driving from work or home? This can be a really important factor if you need to visit the medical practice often for infusions or appointments.
Virtual medical care has become very popular since the COVID-19 pandemic. Meeting via video chat can be really convenient. You don’t need to arrange transportation or purchase fuel. Typically, one misses less work with these convenient visits as they can take the video call while on a work break. Additionally, there’s no need to arrange child care.
The biggest benefit of this type of virtual care is that it may allow you to search a broader geographic area. You may have access to medical teams that you wouldn’t normally have where you live.
When scheduling an appointment with a new provider, it’s always good to ask the office staff, and the provider themselves, how they prefer to communicate with their patients.
In an era of logins, fingerprints, facial recognition, and endless passwords, staying connected can get confusing.
Phone, e-mail, text, and portals are all used to a different extent by different offices and providers. Depending on your own preferences and resources, some of these options might be better than others.
If you can, find out more about the experience of your potential rheumatologist.
Typically providers at university or county medical centers have more experience and interest in complex cases. If someone specializes in rheumatic diseases and pregnancy, and you’re trying to conceive, this may be a very good fit for you regardless of any other factors.
Gender, language, and culture can also be important factors when finding your rheumy.
For example, some people prefer to see female providers. If English is your second language, finding a rheumy who speaks your native language and understands your culture may be a priority.
If you’re a member of a religious community, you may benefit from finding someone associated with, or who understands, the priorities of that set of beliefs.
Finding a new rheumatologist can be difficult. The emotions that come along with it are real and to be expected.
Keep an open mind and remember that this may be a great opportunity.
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