10 Rheumatology Appointment Tips
Managing a chronic disease like rheumatoid arthritis can feel like a full-time job. Symptoms and pain can change daily, making it hard to remember what to tell your rheumatologist – especially during the three-to-six-month period between appointments.
We’ve put together a list of 10 tips to help you take charge of your health and take advantage of those coveted 15-20-minute appointments.
1. Track Your Symptoms
It’s important to track symptoms to ensure you provide an accurate picture of your experience between appointments. Your rheumatologist will want to know how your medications are or aren’t working. They will also want to hear about any symptoms you’re experiencing, including how often each symptom happens and what you do with medications and lifestyle choices to improve them. Tracking also makes it easier to accurately answer questionnaires during appointments. It’s hard to rate the pain you experienced during a specific day, week, or month, from memory.
2. Turn to Tech
Make notes in your phone or consider using a health tracking app. Arthritis Research Canada has created a web-based tracking app called OPERAS, which stands for On-demand Program to EmpoweR Active Self-management. It was designed to help people understand how their symptoms and disease activity change over time. The app also connects to a Fitbit to demonstrate how activity levels impact symptoms and overall health. Bring this app to your rheumatologist appointments to present a picture of your whole health.
3. Identify Triggers
It’s not just about symptoms and medication side effects. Identifying lifestyle factors that affect your arthritis can help you discover patterns. Time of day, exercise, number of tasks and engagements, stress levels, lack of movement due to long car rides or periods of sitting for work can all impact your rheumatoid arthritis. Consider picking up a day planner just for tracking your arthritis. This can help you easily refer to pain triggers, flares and more when your rheumatologist asks.
4. Monitor Your Mental Health
People with rheumatoid arthritis are at an increased risk for anxiety and depression. You might feel anxious one day and then, three days later, start to experience physical symptoms. Don’t underestimate the interplay between mental health and physical symptoms.
5. Sync Your Appointments
Book your lab appointments a few days to a week before your rheumatology appointment. This will ensure your doctor has your bloodwork results before you meet and can discuss any concerns. If you don’t do this and your doctor sees something unusual in your bloodwork, they will need to call you. This can lead to more appointments and scheduling stress.
6. Be Prepared to Wait
Rheumatology offices often run behind schedule. Arthritis is complicated and specialists try to give patients the time they need to discuss symptoms, treatment plans and concerns. Know that you will also get that time. Pack your patience, as well as activities to pass the time. Don’t schedule anything after your appointment. You will experience unnecessary stress if your doctor is running late and you need to be somewhere else.
7. Bring Along Support
Ask a friend or family member to attend your appointments. Have them take notes while you listen and speak to your rheumatologist. This will give you more time to ask questions. Rheumatology appointments can also be emotionally draining and overwhelming – especially when you are newly diagnosed. Having support can make a big difference.
8. Be Honest
Healthcare professionals don’t think any less of you because you decide to do, or not do, something on your own when it comes to your treatment. However, your doctor needs to have the full picture. They may ask you to explain your reasoning or thought process and, if they feel a decision is detrimental to your health, can explain why. Communication is key.
9. Pack a Priority List
How do you prioritize what to talk about during a 15–20-minute rheumatology appointment? Create a list of items that you want to discuss and rank them in order of importance. You can either go through the list from top to bottom or read everything out at the beginning of the appointment. Don’t be afraid to opt for the second option. Your doctor might think something you ranked lower is more important and, when addressed, can resolve some of the other items on your list.
10. Digitize Your Medical Records
Scan your medical records onto your computer and upload them to a cloud service like Google Drive or Dropbox. This will make them accessible and easy to share with members of your medical team. Also, consider keeping your medications and doses on your phone. Quick access to this information is extremely useful when seeing a new medical professional or in emergency situations.
Remember, you are part of your care team. It’s important to monitor your symptoms and communicate them effectively to your doctors and allied health professionals. This will ensure you receive the best possible care and will help you live life to the fullest despite rheumatoid arthritis.