A woman clutches her aching back while pushing a shopping cart and looking at a lineup of doctors.

What is My Criteria for a New Rheumatologist?

My rheumatologist of the last fifteen or so years is retiring. Talk about striking fear in the heart of a long-term patient. Wow, that is not great news. I know some people may not have a good relationship with their rheumatologists. I get along with Dr. N well. We have been through some tough times, and finally, we have this monster nearly figured out. Or as figured out as it can be anyway.

It is not unexpected

I have seen it coming for some time. Dr. N. told me he intended to retire sooner than later a few years back. He stopped seeing any new patients, he contracted office hours, and he moved his practice to a rehabilitation setting, where he could use their office support. But still, like a Timex, he kept on ticking (do not worry if you do not get the reference, you must be older than 60 to understand it).

When he told me he was retiring, I was still in a bit of shock. No more visits with Dr. N.? Gulp. You see, here is the thing, Dr. N. and I are on good terms. Like all his long-term patients, he gave me his cell number (if you are ever in trouble, call me, he said). He meant that extended to being arrested, but I am unsure. Dr. N managed my disability, my brush with death a few years back; he even understands if I ask him offbeat questions. He likes those questions. So, replacing him will be difficult, if not impossible.

Dr. N’s pending retirement caused me to list the things I wanted in my new rheumatologist.

This is my list:

Female doctor

I prefer a female doctor. I have nothing against male doctors; some of my doctors are males. I find females so much more careful and precise. Last year my long-time endocrinologist also left practice, and I was able to find a doctor to take over that part of my care. Adding a female rheumatologist would mean that my big 4 (cardiologist, endocrinologist, primary care, and rheumatologist) would all be females.

Knowledge is power

I want someone knowledgeable. That may be obvious, but when almost any doctor can hang out a shingle and call themselves a Rheumatologist, I want to exercise care in choosing a doctor. I searched inside my hospital system and found a few, but also, I asked around. I looked at the American College of Rheumatology for one in my area. I asked my Primary Care Doctor (PCP). My most important source of possibilities is my infusion nurse (she knows everyone in this community).  

Still, I must understand that each person I ask has their own experience and frame of reference, so it is incumbent on me to listen to each with discernment.

Someone who gets me

I want someone who gets me. That means someone who laughs with and at me. I also want someone who will laugh at themself. If a person does not have a sense of humor, our relationship will never work. I understand that my humor is more about putting up with me than getting me. Likewise, I do not mind putting up with them and not getting them, but they must be willing to laugh.

Connection

I want someone active in the American College of Rheumatology and hopefully the local Arthritis Foundation. Connection is essential to me because that is how I accomplish things. We will get along better if they are connected to others in their profession and the broader world.

Consultant

I want someone willing to be my consultant, not my manager. I only hire doctors for their specialized expertise in their field. I need that expertise. I need their knowledge, training, access to medications, and good judgment. But they also need to listen to me to make decisions that are appropriate for my treatment. I am not a textbook; some things do not work well for me. I need them to consider my preferences and not attempt to bully me into or out of medical decisions. Being a bully is the surest way for me to stop seeing them.

Long term

I have only changed rheumatologists when they stopped practicing. I do not want to start now. I will, but I do not want to. I want a long-term relationship. It takes much too long to break in a new rheumatologist to treat me. Who wants to do this repeatedly? Not me for sure.

The front office

The front office must be professional but also agreeable. I would not say I like it when I do not have a good relationship with the front office. Nothing can kill a doctor relationship for me quicker than a fouled-up, angry, condescending, or disagreeable front office person.

What are your criteria for a good doctor-patient relationship? If you had to search for a doctor, who would you consult? Please give me your additions to the list.

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