A rheumatologist is a doctor who treats arthritis and other diseases of the bones, joints, and muscles. If you have ankylosing spondylitis (AS), your rheumatologist will play a big role in managing your care.

You want to seek out a doctor who has experience treating people with AS. Finding someone you trust is also important. You need to be able to talk openly with your rheumatologist. And because AS is a chronic condition, you’ll want someone you can work with for many years.

Here are a few tips to help you find the right rheumatologist.

Start by asking your primary care doctor to recommend a few specialists. Also, ask friends or family members if they have a rheumatologist they like.

The American College of Rheumatology is a national organization that represents rheumatologists in the United States. It has an online directory where you can search for a specialist in your area.

Call your insurance company or look on their website to find out which doctors in your area are covered in-network. While you may be able to see someone out of network, you’ll likely have to pay more out of pocket.

When you call the rheumatologist’s office for an appointment, confirm that they’re taking new patients and that they accept your insurance plan. Some offices limit the number of patients they accept from certain insurance providers.

Find out whether the doctor is licensed and board-certified in rheumatology. Licensed doctors have received the medical training required by their state. Board-certified means that on top of completing training, the doctor has also passed an exam given by the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM).

You can check a doctor’s board certification status on the Certification Matters website.

Online doctor rating websites like Healthgrades and RateMDs offer patient reviews. These sites can give you a sense of the doctor’s knowledge, office environment, and bedside manner.

Keep in mind that everyone’s experience with the same doctor can be different. One or two bad reviews may be isolated incidents, but a long list of negative reviews should be a red flag.

Compile a list of a few rheumatologists and call them to set up interviews. Here are some questions to ask each rheumatologist you meet:

  • What are your medical qualifications and expertise?Ask about board certification, specialties, and whether the doctor has conducted any research studies on AS.
  • Have you treated AS? Doctors with experience treating this form of arthritis will be most up-to-date on the latest therapies.
  • How many patients with AS do you treat each year? The more patients the doctor sees, the better.
  • Which hospital are you affiliated with? If you may need surgery in the future, you’ll want to be sure your doctor works at a top-notch hospital.
  • Will you be available to answer my questions outside of office visits? Find out whether the doctor responds to phone calls or emails, and how long it usually takes to respond.

The doctor should be open and honest when answering your questions and should speak clearly without using a lot of medical jargon. They should also listen to you and treat you with respect.

There are also practical considerations when choosing a doctor — like their office location and hours. Here are a few things to check for:

  • Convenience. Is the doctor’s office close to where you live? Is parking available?
  • Hours. Will the office be open at times that are convenient for you? Do they have evening and weekend hours? Will there be someone available to help you when the office is closed?
  • Office staff. Are the staff friendly and helpful? Are they responsive to you? Does someone answer the phone right away when you call?
  • Ease of scheduling. How long will you have to wait for an appointment?
  • Lab work. Does the office do lab work and X-rays, or will you have to go to another facility?

Your rheumatologist will play a central role in your care for many years to come. Take your time to select someone you feel comfortable with and trust. If the doctor you choose isn’t a good fit, don’t be afraid to look for someone new.