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“The 7 costly secrets about arthritis specialists... and how you can avoid making the wrong choice!”

If you’re like the typical patient you do have fears about seeing a new doctor... especially a specialist.  Here are some tips to guide you in picking the right arthritis specialist.

Here are some important facts you need to know when you want to find the best arthritis specialist.

1.  How long will it take to get an appointment... I’m in pain now?

Unfortunately, rheumatologists are few in number and it may take some time to get an appointment.  However, if you’re in serious discomfort, you should be able to explain your situation and get in within a short time.  Ask about a waiting list for cancellations.  Sometimes you can get lucky since there may be a lull in the schedule.

2.  Do I have to wait long to see the doctor once I get to the office?

You should not have to wait long to see the physician.  Your time is valuable too.  The initial appointment may take some time in the office.  You actually want to spend a long time with the doctor and the staff.  That means your case is being evaluated carefully.

3.  Will the doctor listen to me or will he be rushed?

You should get the feeling your doctor is a good listener.  If he or she seems rushed, ask them about it.  It may be just one of those days.  If they’re chronically rushed then you need to go elsewhere.  That brings us to empathy because your doctor needs to be on the same wavelength as you... so you’ll feel comfortable and at ease… someone you can talk with- who will be interested in your goals and dreams… not focused on his or her own agenda

4.  Can I trust the doctor?

You must be able to trust your physician.  Does he or she look you in the eye?  Do they speak in easy to understand language.   If they talk about things at too “high” a level – too technical- then communication won’t be good.

There is no substitute for experience.  Someone who has been in practice for many years will recognize things that inexperienced clinicians will miss. It’s like any skill – the more you work hard at it, the better you are! A good rheumatologist must be a good diagnostician because there are more than 100 different kinds of arthritis.

5.  Will the doctor be open to alternative therapies?

Open-mindedness is a quality you should demand in your physician. All patients need individualized attention. More than 80% of patients will seek out alternative remedies.  Sometimes, alternative medicines will help.  A specialist should recognize this.

If you’re interested in exploring alternative therapies, you must convey that to your physician.  Sometimes drug interactions may occur with some alternative remedies and you want to let the doctor know what you’re taking so they can take that into account.

6.  How do I know the doctor is up on the latest treatments?

You want somebody who is well known and respected by his or her peers.  You’ll want someone who went to medical school in the United States, who did their training at a major university, and who did their arthritis training at a world-renowned research facility.  You’ll also want someone who is board-certified in rheumatology.  The best doctors have published many (at least 50) papers in the scientific journals. The best rheumatologists also serve as reviewers for the medical journals. They help evaluate what research results should be published.

Do they have special technically advanced equipment and facilities? When it comes to your health you don’t want corners cut.  You want to be evaluated by the best people using the best equipment.

Finally, it is always helpful if the experts you see are doing good quality research.  They will be more familiar with the latest therapies. They will want to look for the best treatments available.

Here are a few other myths you should be aware of...

Myth: “Any doctor can treat arthritis…”

Fact: Since 1950 the amount of information a doctor has to know has increased 20 times!

It’s impossible for a non-specialist to keep up with new developments in arthritis.

Fact: Only rheumatologists are specifically trained in how to give comprehensive arthritis care.  While orthopedic surgeons, chiropractors, and other physicians may have some knowledge, they don’t have the training that rheumatologists do. Chiropractors are not MDs.  They are not trained in using up-to-date medicines.  Orthopedic surgeons likewise don’t have the same education with arthritis medicines that a rheumatologist has.

Also... they are surgeons.  Their orientation, for the most part, is to operate and do joint replacement surgery. 

Myth: “All rheumatologists (arthritis doctors) have the same level of expertise...”

Fact: Expertise is earned through constant learning and training. What you should insist on in a rheumatologist is the following…

Expertise is earned through constant learning and training. What you should insist on in a rheumatologist is the following…

  • Graduate of an American medical school
  • Training in both internal medicine and radiology at a major University teaching hospital
  • Board certification in both internal medicine and rheumatology
  • Fellowship at a research center like the National Institutes of Health
  • More than 20 years of practice experience
  • More than 50 publications in the medical literature…
  • Access to new arthritis medicines through research studies- this shows a commitment to keeping current!
  • National reputation for expertise
  • Faculty appointment at a medical school

Here’s a question to ask… “Doctor, Did you pass the board exam in rheumatology on your first attempt?”

The rheumatology board exam is a grueling test.  Only the best pass the first time!!! Twenty-one percent of first time applicants fail!!

(Statistics from the American Board of Internal Medicine)

And here is another big concern for most people...

7.  How much will this cost.... can I afford it?

Here you must make an important distinction between price and value.  Price is what you pay- the cost.  Value is what you get in relation to what you pay.

Let me explain...

Let’s say you go to see the cheapest physicians... the ones who participate with your insurance.  So on the surface, the price or cost is cheap.

But, if you have to spend a lot of time running from doctor to doctor trying to get a diagnosis, getting test after test without a definite result, if you spend days, weeks, months feeling awful because treatments aren’t working, if you miss work and family trips and vacations because of poor or inadequate therapies.... then the cost to you may be enormous.  This is very poor value.

On the other hand, if you invest your money and see a specialist who really knows his stuff and makes the diagnosis quickly, gets you feeling better quickly, gets your quality of life back quickly, prevents crippling and disability, gets you back to work and leisure activities, monitors you carefully for side-effects, directs you to the best treatments for your condition, takes your hand and leads you on the right path... then the value you receive is enormous.  After allFeature Articles, what is your health worth to you? 

Source: Free Articles from


Nathan Wei, MD FACP FACR is a rheumatologist and Clinical Director of the Arthritis and Osteoporosis Center of Maryland.. For more info:

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