Many healthcare professionals can help you manage different aspects of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Here are some of the professionals you may want to consult:
Primary care physician (PCP): Your PCP is trained in general medicine, family practice or some other entry-level-of-care medicine. While a PCP can evaluate and treat arthritis, he or she may refer you to a rheumatologist for arthritis-specific care.
Rheumatologist: This doctor specializes in the medical treatment of arthritis and other diseases of the joints. Generally, for RA patients, the Rheumatologist is captain of the team.
Physical therapist (PT). A physical therapist focuses on improving your mobility by helping you improve joint flexibility and muscle strength.
Occupational therapist (OT): Occupational therapists can help teach you how to do everyday tasks, like dressing and driving, in a way that minimizes arthritis pain and stiffness. They also recommend helpful assistive devices.
Nurse practitioner: An Advanced Practice Nurse who can provide high-quality care and treatment to patients. They can diagnose and treat a variety of health problems and inform patients about lifestyle changes that can improve their health.
Physician assistant: Health professionals licensed to practice medicine with physician supervision. They perform a comprehensive range of medical duties, from basic primary care to high-technology specialty procedures.
Nurse: In addition to helping your doctors, nurses can explain the thinking behind your treatment plan and suggest practical ways to carry it out. If there's something about your diagnosis or treatment that you don't understand, your nurse is a good person to ask!
Podiatrist: These "foot doctors" are licensed to prescribe medication and do surgery on your feet or ankles. If your arthritis affects your feet, a podiatrist can prescribe special shoes or other devices that can help.
Ophthalmologist: This eye specialist can examine and treat you for possible complications caused by your RA.
Therapist/counselor: These "talk therapy" professionals can help you explore and cope with the emotional issues that can arise when you're dealing with a chronic illness like RA.
Social worker: A social worker can help you find practical solutions to some of the problems you may encounter in living with RA, such as helping you navigate health insurance issues.
Orthopedic surgeons: These professionals manage the surgical aspect of RA and its complications. Fortunately advances in medical treatments have eliminated many of these complications (tendon ruptures, joint damage causing nerve compressions, fractures that don't heal, etc.) but there are still problems requiring surgical expertise in some patients.
If you see a healthcare professional on this list who you think might be able to help but who isn't currently on your team, talk with your doctor. He or she will be able to provide you with referrals. (You may want to check first with your insurance plan to see which services are covered.) When it comes to keeping RA under control, a team approach really helps!