11 Things To Bring To Your First Appointment With A Rheumatologist
Lene Andersen | Aug 30, 2017
Your family doctor suspected you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and referred you to a rheumatologist. That’s scary enough by itself, but facing the first appointment with a specialist can really ramp up the nerves. Will they confirm the diagnosis? What can you expect?
Today, I’ll share tips on what to bring to your first appointment to make the process easier.
Hope and courage
The possible diagnosis of a chronic illness can be daunting. Before your appointment, ask your loved ones to remind you of all the hard things you’ve done in your life. Remember that you have the strength and resilience to deal with this. New medications have changed the RA treatment approach to one that hits early and aggressively, improving your chances of remission. There is good reason to hope you will be able to live a fairly normal life with RA.
In the first appointment, the rheumatologist will take your medical history and conduct a physical exam. You can make this part of the diagnostic process more efficient by writing down your medical history and the symptoms that brought you there ahead of time. Use bullet points and limit it to two pages, max. Remember to add a list of medications you are taking. I have yet to meet a doctor who didn’t appreciate the extra time and clarity this kind of documentation can provide.
If your family doctor ordered tests to help identify the cause of your symptoms, bring a copy of the results. This may save you from having to go through the tests again. Some rheumatologists may order their own tests to make a diagnosis. You may want to start keeping your own file of medical documents related to your condition. This can include symptom tracking, medication lists, blood tests, imaging tests on CDs, a list of doctors, and much more.
Reading material and snacks
Specialists are notorious for having longer waiting periods, both to get an appointment and to see them on the day of your appointment. You will probably be asked to fill out insurance information and questionnaires, but don’t rely on that to keep you from getting bored. Bring reading material for entertainment and food and drinks to keep you nourished. Dress comfortably in clothes that are easy to take off and put on again.
One of the most valuable things you can bring to a first appointment is a friend or family member. As mentioned previously, this can be a bit of an anxious situation. Having someone you trust along for moral support can make you feel more stable. Having another person as a memory backup, or to take notes, will make it much less likely that you miss something important during the appointment.
A medical dictionary
I mean this in a tongue-in-cheek way, but perhaps bringing a medical dictionary wouldn’t be a bad idea. You are about to enter a new area with its own specialized language. If your doctor is affiliated with a teaching hospital, they may have a resident do the initial assessment. Hearing the two of them talk jargon about your case can be like listening to a foreign language — incomprehensible for those not in the know. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if there’s something you don’t understand.
Your advocate hat
When you have a chronic illness, it’s important to learn self-advocacy skills. After all, it’s your body and your life, so tests and treatments must make sense to you. Self-advocacy often starts with research, talking to other people with a chronic illness, and thinking about your own values and wishes for your life with chronic illness. Learning to be an effective advocate for yourself can take time and experience, but you’ll get there.
Being patient is in an important quality to have when you go to that first appointment. Waiting calmly for your turn will reduce your anxiety. Being able to roll with delays as you wait for test results will make your life easier than calling your doctor’s office every day to check. But being an advocate for yourself also means knowing when to stop being patient. Sometimes waiting too long can be detrimental to your health.
List of questions
That first appointment can seem like a blur five minutes after leaving. That’s also usually when an important question pops into your mind. Prepare by doing some research before the appointment, think about the things you want to ask the most, and write down 3-5 issues you have. If you have more questions afterward, you can always book time to see your doctor again, call, or perhaps email. Remember that the rheumatologist is your doctor all the time, not just when you see them in their office.
When you have a chronic illness, it’s important to create a team environment with your doctor (pom-poms optional!). Working together will make efforts to improve your quality of life much more effective. Being an active participant in your care and an empowered patient means that you are in charge of making decisions. After all, you are the person living with a chronic illness 24/7.
A sense of humor
Being a patient in a medical setting is a surreal experience. A healthy sense of humor will help you deal with all the craziness you’re about to encounter. The glamorous paper gowns, trekking from one end of a hospital to another, blood tests, imaging tests, dealing with nervous medical students, and the occasional dragon receptionist. Trust me, there is so much material that you’ll be able to get a second job is a standup comedian afterward!