The Arthritis Newsletter

Summer 2015

Tips for Communicating with your Doctors

By members of the Arthritis Patients Advisory Board


Some practical ideas on getting the most out of your consultation with your rheumatologist, physician or other medical professional.


While different people handle the medical challenges of arthritis in different ways, virtually everyone diagnosed with one of the over 100 forms of the condition will be referred to one or more specialists. With uncertainty and a lack of knowledge about the condition, the patient can quickly become overwhelmed with information and sick with worry. Clearly, it is to everyone’s advantage for the patient to become a more active participant in the treatment plan, to learn the right questions to ask and to understand the importance of what the doctors are telling them.


The Arthritis Patients’ Advisory Board has compiled the following list of suggestions for maintaining effective communication with medical specialists.


  • Effective communication begins when you call to book for an appointment. Medical office assistants are part of your health care team and they can be trusted. State the reason for your visit in detail so she/he can determine and allocate the proper time needed for the visit.


  • Come prepared for your appointment and be prepared to only address one or two things on your list or tell the practitioner you might need a second appointment.  Doctors can run late, so be prepared with something to read.


  • Document any flare-ups you have been having so you can tell your doctor that, since your last visit, you have had x number of flare-ups, on average lasting y days. This tells them a lot about how active your disease is, and will help them decide on whether to change your treatment.


  • Document any new symptoms, where they are occurring, and how often they have been occurring. Taking pictures on a smartphone can be very helpful, especially if the symptom (e.g. a rash) goes away before you can get in to see your rheumatologist.


  • To get the best result of your doctor’s visit, plan ahead and come prepared. Make a list of your symptoms/problems according to priority, such as:

– I woke up with stiffness in my neck that lasted for half an hour.

– all my finger joints are painful and swollen

– the pain, from 1-10 is a ten.

– I can’t sleep due to pain.

– my knee is painful that I can’t climb the stairs.


  • Consider using wearables/tracking tools like FitBit and the Arthritis Health Journal. The reports can be printed off and taken to your doctor to inform the conversation.


  • If you have trouble remembering what questions you wanted to ask, or answers you have been given, it is sometimes helpful to have a spouse, partner or advocate accompany you to your appointment.


  • Prepare a list of questions and, with his or her agreement, give them to your rheumatologist at the beginning of your appointment. Then check it at the end of the appointment to make sure that you have addressed all the issues.


  • If you are suffering from depression, anxiety or stress, additional time may be required. Give ample parking time. There’s nothing worse than worrying if your parking is about to expire when you’re having a session with your doctor.


  • Have a list of your medications, as well as dosages and whether you need a new prescription. If there has been any change in how you are taking the medications or the dosages, record how long ago you made that change. Also, let your rheumatologist know if you are having any significant side effects from the medications.


  • The first few minutes of your visit is the best time to be proactive with your health concerns. Since time is of the essence, you need to manage it. Either read from your list of symptoms or present your list to your doctor. Each problem you present your doctor requires a thorough investigation including asking crucial questions, physical examination, blood pressure tests, and so on.


  • Keep a small notepad and pen with you to immediately write down the main points made in your consultation with your doctor, especially if the information and/or recommended course of action is detailed or multi-faceted.


  • When describing pain or loss of mobility describe it in terms of function: such as, My arm is very sore – it bothers me most when I reach my arm over my head out front and especially if it is to lift something down.  I cannot lift a coffee cup from the bottom shelf of my cupboards.


  • Be specific in describing your symptoms to give your doctor a good idea of what your concerns are. What you missed or did not share with your doctor may be crucial for proper diagnosis and remedies.


  • Some problems require specific instruments, gowns or other preparation. Dress appropriately for quick and easy changes such as a slip-on top and slip-on shoes.


  • Don’t be afraid to ask WHY – why your medications are being changed, why you are on them, why they help, why you are getting these symptoms. The more you understand the better you can control your arthritis and not let it control you.


  • Once the doctor provides a diagnosis, he or she may prescribe medication or may propose a management plan or alternative choices for treatment. You have an opportunity to ask questions and to get all the information you need to make informed choices.


  • Your questions might include:

– possible side effects of medication

– any conflict with your existing medications

– what to do if you miss your medication

– do you take it with food or on an empty stomach

– other alternative treatments, physiotherapy, massage therapy, acupuncture, exercise, and so on


  • Ask for what else you can do in addition to taking the medications to help your arthritis. Your rheumatologist can help with suggesting lifestyle changes, exercises or other treatments that may be appropriate.


  • Make sure you go get the imaging and blood work ordered by your rheumatologist, and if it should be repeated on a regular basis schedule it in so you don’t miss it (e.g. write down blood work on your calendar if it is to be done monthly).


  • Always be truthful. You expect your doctor to be truthful with you, so be truthful with them. For example, if you have a drink every night, and that is important, tell them. Don’t say you only have a drink a week.


  • If you start to get much worse symptoms and your next visit is still several months away, call your rheumatologist to see if you can come in earlier.


  • In the past, doctors gave orders (take this medication) and you would not think of questioning him/her. You believed that they were trained and it was their job to cure or heal you. The new approach is a renewed respect for patient autonomy. Being informed of your disease and treatments puts you in the driver seat in your own health care.
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