How to Choose a Rheumatologist

What to consider when choosing this partner in your rheumatoid arthritis care team.

Winnie Yu
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You’ve just been told that you need a rheumatologist. Don’t simply choose the first one that shows up in a Google search. Finding a good rheumatologist can make all the difference in how you handle your rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Rheumatologists specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of autoimmune diseases that often involve pain, such as RA. “Rheumatologists do the detective work necessary to discover the cause of swelling and pain,” says Harry D. Fischer, MD, chief of the Division of Rheumatology at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City and coauthor of What to Do When the Doctor Says It’s Rheumatoid Arthritis. “It’s important to get a proper diagnosis early, so you can get the right treatment.”

After spending four years in medical school and three years training in internal medicine, doctors who become rheumatologists spend another two to three years getting trained in rheumatology. Most become board certified, which requires passing an exam given by the American Board of Internal Medicine.

Rheumatologists work closely with patients to identify their problems and customize treatment programs. That’s why choosing a good rheumatologist is important for your health. Here’s what you need to consider when selecting a rheumatologist:

  • Specialty. Rheumatology is already a medical specialty, but many rheumatologists specialize in treating specific diseases, such as RA or lupus. Ask around to find a rheumatologist who specializes in RA and is well equipped to treat your condition.
  • Convenience. Choose a rheumatologist who has convenient hours and an accessible office. And make sure they take your health insurance. “A rheumatic illness can be stressful enough without having to make a long drive or adjust your schedule to accommodate your doctor’s hours,” Fischer says.
  • Communication skills. Make sure your rheumatologist is a good communicator who seeks your input, asks probing questions and answers your call (or calls you back) when you need help or information. Ask yourself this: Does the rheumatologist answer my questions and explain complex medical issues clearly, so I can understand them?
  • Alliances. Rheumatologists often need to refer people to another healthcare provider, such as a gastroenterologist, pulmonologist or physical therapist. Ask your rheumatologist about their ties to other medical professionals and what hospital(s) they’re affiliated with.
  • RA research knowledge. A good rheumatologist will be on top of all the latest research and developments in RA. They should also be well informed about clinical trials being done on RA meds, in case you’re eligible to participate in a study. 
April 2013