Joint_Decis_4CThis month I am preparing for the web conversation “Joint Decisions” co-sponsored by CreakyJoints and Janssen Biotech.

My first chat is with Matt Iseman and we are talking about working with your rheumatologist to manage your RA. One of the issues we will tackle is the importance of finding a rheumatologist.

The importance of the right doctor was brought home this week when I accompanied someone in profound pain to an emergency room. Although the medical personnel were sympathetic, they really did not know how best to treat pain. Nor did they understand the underlying conditions that were causing it.

This led me to thinking about the work it takes to find the physician you can rely on to help you navigate pain, treatment, and other symptoms of your disease.

Here are a few thoughts on what is needed:

It isn’t easy.

From insurance regulations to physician availability to finding a temperamental “fit”, this is not an easy piece of work. Acknowledge that, and then attend to it as you have the energy. But don’t let the amount of work push you into passive acceptance of “whatever” or settling for the next open practice slot. You deserve better and you can feel better.

Work your networks and your friendship circles. Ask everybody. Check with your GP (if you have one!) about a specialist. See who presents at national conferences. Check in on message boards and with bloggers. You are not the only person who ever had to find the best medical care for you, and people are amazingly willing to help.

Commit to getting the right person.

Don’t imagine that just because you meet with someone they have to be your doctor. Schedule a “meet and greet” rather than a full appointment. Take the most important interview questions. Yes, this takes time, and effort. Today you may not be able to do it, but plan for when you are generally at your best.

Be willing to drive or travel. You may have to do a little extra, but when you have the person who gets you and is treating you in the optimum way, it is worth it.

Also all physicians are not equal, and do not have equal competence or knowledge or experience. Get a second (or third) opinion.

Decide what compromises you can live with.

You get to think about this. You may be willing to trade off bedside manner for someone who is working with the latest medical treatments. You may prefer someone empathetic because that helps you heal best. You can spend some time thinking about what will most support your ongoing care – because you will be working with this person for a long while.

However, don’t be afraid to switch.

Maybe you started with one doctor, but you’ve changed, or that practice has, or you are deciding you need something different. This is your body, your health, your life. Breaking up with a doctor doesn’t have to be a traumatic ending – what matters most is that you get what you need. The doctor’s job is to be there for you!

Matt and I will go into more detail on this on Sept. 23 at 7 p.m. EST. Join us and bring your experiences and questions!