Building A Relationship With Your Rheumatologist

My first rheumatologist and I really had a love-hate relationship.  When I first met him, I did not really like him, and he was very critical of me.  There were a few times when I considered finding a new doctor.  Ultimately, I stayed with my first rheumatologist from six months prior to diagnosis and for the next five years until I moved from Michigan to New York, and now I see my current rheumatologist.

My first rheumatologist was very treatment aggressive.  He was also a big proponent of steroids.  I cooperated on and off, although I always tried to stay on the lowest possible dose, and eventually was able to take them on an as-needed basis, which gave me ultimate control.  When I first saw my current rheumatologist, she weaned me off of the steroids that I was on and I haven’t been on any since.

That’s not the only difference between the two.  My original rheumatologist refused to talk about getting pregnant.  He didn’t want to talk about it until it wasn’t “hypothetical” anymore.  At the time, I was in a long-term relationship – that I am still in – and as we looked toward our future, we were curious about what pregnancy would look like for us.

My current rheumatologist has been very sensitive to this issue and has really helped me understand what that part of my future might hold.  I don’t know if this had to do with the fact that my original rheumatologist was male and my current rheumatologist is female, but whatever the case, they have had very different reactions to this topic.

The other thing about my new rheumatologist that really works for me is that she is really focused on getting me on a combination of medications that work for me, and this has entailed more of tweaking doses of medications than switching to different medications entirely.

Needless to say, my lupus and RA are the most stable they have been since I started treatment.  That’s not to say that I don’t have issues, because I definitely do. However, it is to say that finding the right combination of medications takes patience and persistence – and doesn’t always mean playing treatment switching if that isn’t what is right for you.

And that’s the key in all of this.  You have to do what is right for you.  And there is no single treatment that works for everyone.  Just as there is no single doctor for everyone.  Building a relationship with a physician takes time and energy on both sides, and it should be reciprocal.  Although it might seem like a better idea to just go with the flow, you should definitely feel comfortable talking to your doctor.  And if you are uncomfortable or dissatisfied with the care you are receiving, you should look for another doctor.

Just with the other relationships in your life, you don’t want them to be toxic.  You want them to be mutually beneficial.  If you and your rheumatologist don’t have a good relationship, you should definitely seek out a new one.  Now I’m not trying to say that finding a rheumatologist will be easy, but you shouldn’t stay in a bad relationship because it seems easier to do that than finding a new doctor.

After all, this is your life and your health, and you need to be in control of it.  You are your own best advocate, and although your doctor should be your advocate, too, if that’s not happening, it’s time to find someone new.

I’ve been lucky in that I had the University of Michigan Health System in my backyard in Michigan, so I got my care there – and there were many other rheumatologists I could have switched to had I decided to dump mine.  Now in New York, I am also lucky to have a wide variety of rheumatologists available to me in close proximity.  If you don’t have that, you’re going to want to look into possible rheumatologists that are close to you.  If you only go to the rheumatologist every couple of months, it might be worth it to look for a doctor in the city or at area hospitals.  You might have to travel to get to your appointment, but it might be worth it in that having a positive relationship with your rheumatologist is worth more than you know.

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