People who have chronic health conditions like ankylosing spondylitis (AS) or other similar diseases might be advised by their regular doctor or primary care physician to see a specialist known as a rheumatologist. Rheumatologists are doctors who are specially trained to recognize and treat a numbers of conditions called rheumatic diseases. Like ankylosing spondylitis, rheumatic diseases are characterized by inflammation throughout the body, especially in the musculoskeletal system. These diseases can affect the muscles, joints, and bones and may cause pain, swelling and stiffness, and, in severe cases, physical deformity.1
How can a rheumatologist help?
Given that people with rheumatic diseases can experience joint damage that cannot be repaired, it’s important to get diagnosed and treated as soon as possible to prevent worsening of disease. Seeing a rheumatologist is an important step in getting properly diagnosed and treated.
It is still good for you to stay in treatment with your primary care doctor, even when you see a rheumatologist. A team approach is an effective way to manage the complex symptoms and diseases processes that people with rheumatic diseases may experience.2
How are rheumatologists trained?
All rheumatologists must finish four years of medical school plus three years of residency in either internal medicine or pediatrics. They then must complete a two- or three-year rheumatology fellowship program and pass a test for official certification. Many rheumatologists see patients and also conduct clinical research.1
How do you start finding a good rheumatologist?
One of the best ways of finding a rheumatologist is through your primary care physician or other members of your care team. They will know the experienced specialists in your area, and they will generally have ongoing collaborative relationships with rheumatologists who manage the care of other patients in their practice.
Autoimmune and rheumatic diseases can be complex to recognize and diagnose. A good rheumatologist should be able to tolerate uncertainty in diagnosis, feel comfortable consulting with other experts, and be persistent in searching for answers and solutions for their patients.3
Trust your instincts
It’s important to have an experienced, qualified rheumatologist managing your care. But don’t forget to trust your gut, as well, when it comes to finding a good doctor. You should always feel comfortable with your provider and aligned when it comes to their approach to your health.
Also, keep in mind the following characteristics, which make for good doctors no matter which specialty they choose:
Makes eye contact and looks up from charts
Is accessible and has time in their schedule
Returns phone calls consistently
Is patient in working through options and tests to come to a correct diagnosis
Is focused on your quality of life
What is a Rheumatologist. American College of Rheumatology. Updated June 2018. Available at: https://www.rheumatology.org/I-Am-A/Patient-Caregiver/Health-Care-Team/What-is-a-Rheumatologist Accessed April 10, 2019.
Sara Altschul. How I Chose My Rheumatologist: Smart Tips From People Living With Arthritis. Everyday Health. Updated February 19, 2016. Available at: https://www.everydayhealth.com/rheumatoid-arthritis/treatment/how-to-choose-rheumatologist/ Accessed April 10, 2019.
Making the Most of Your Relationship With Your Rheumatologist. AbbVie, Inc. July 2015. Available at: https://www.ra.com/Content/pdf/14068_RAEnhancements_SeeingaRheumBrochure_R2-62515-yeo.pdf Accessed April 10, 2019.
Elaine Howley. How Can I Find the Best Rheumatologist? US News and World Report. July 11, 2018. Available at: https://health.usnews.com/health-care/patient-advice/articles/how-can-i-find-the-best-rheumatologist Accessed April 10, 2019.