I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) at age 10, so for 23 years I have been navigating this disease. Something I wasn’t prepared for was navigating the healthcare system, too.
As a child, my parents were the ones asking questions and making sure I received the proper care. When I went to college, I started going to the doctor alone.
My first visit to a rheumatologist without my parents was intimidating. I forgot what to ask, and as a result, missed out on good care and a beneficial experience at my appointment.
Luckily, I now know which questions to ask — and that has completely changed my understanding of RA and my relationship with my rheumatologists for the better.
Many of these questions you might not even think about because they seem so simple or might seem like things your doctor will tell you, but don’t overlook them. They can make your experience so much better.
I started going to a large clinic with one call center for 6 other clinics about 5 years ago, and this was a huge change from the smaller rheumatology offices I was accustomed to.
When I called the doctor for an emergency type situation, it could take them days to call back — sometimes a week! They never answered emails, either.
Last year, I spent an entire week getting in touch with the nurse to send in a refill prescription. After this bad experience and spending so much time on the phone, one of the nurses gave me the number to their direct line. She told me they don’t usually give it out, but I can call it any time.
Ask your doctor if there’s an email address or phone number you can use when you need answers fast.
Just because something is natural, doesn’t mean it’s safe to take with your RA meds.
Make sure you tell your doctor everything you take — or are thinking about trying — including supplements, vitamins, or natural remedies.
I have learned this the hard way, and now I make sure to ask before trying anything new.
If you’re having issues paying for medications, ask your doctor now or on your next visit about this. Don’t try to do it alone.
The nurses can help you get set up for a prescription savings program.
My husband sees a gastroenterologist, and the office sets him up with any program possible when he starts a new medication. He has never had to pay more than $5, even for biologic drugs.
Medical offices have more resources and knowledge about programs. You should be able to get almost anything you need if they’re able to help you. So, this is a big question to ask.
Ask your doctor about additional therapies they might recommend and have them write a prescription for it.
I asked my doctor about this last year because I was really struggling with muscle and tendon pain, not just RA. She wrote a prescription for physical therapy that also included massage.
Thankfully, my insurance paid for it, so I was able to get some additional help. It’s very worth it to talk with your doctor about this because it can be so beneficial.
You might not ever go through this, but it’s important to check what type of emergency help they will offer.
For instance, I’ve had rheumatologists who will phone in a steroid quickly for me. I have also had ones who must see you in person before they prescribe a steroid of any type.
Understanding the doctor’s pain management methods will make you more prepared in case the pain gets out of control.
If your doctor requires a visit, this means you will need to contact them sooner in order to get an appointment. The worst thing is to get caught in a flare and not be able to get in for a few weeks.
I’ve only had one rheumatologist bring this up to me, but this is an important thing to know. Certain side effects are very common with medications, and many side effects aren’t common at all.
Ask your rheumatologist what you should be looking out for, and what to do if you have side effects. Should you stop taking the medication right away? Should you wait until you talk to the doctor?
I hope this simple list will make your rheumatology visits easier and prevent additional complications.
There are so many other questions you can ask your rheumatologist, but these are the most basic and often overlooked ones.
Alexis Rochester is an investigative chemist, blogger, and founder of Chemistry Cachet. She shares science-based skin care, cleaning, gardening, and health tips. She was diagnosed with RA at age 10, so she has a passion for pain management tips and research, along with sharing her journey through this disease. She lives in Texas with her daughter, husband, and bulldog. You can find her posting pictures and fun stories daily on Instagram. Also look for Chemistry Cachet on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and LinkedIn.