Developing a partnership
This article is about a special kind of relationship--the one between you and your doctor. If you have arthritis you know just how important this relationship is. We hope this information helps you to make it one that is valuable and rewarding.
Since arthritis care often requires frequent visits to the doctor an ongoing partnership can develop if you and your doctor are willing to work at it. It's to your advantage to have the best possible relationship with your doctor because by helping your doctor you help yourself.
A partnership in arthritis care is a relationship in which:
It takes effort and time to develop a strong working relationship. You'll realize though that your efforts will help you to better control and manage your arthritis.
You can help your doctor help you by doing the following:
Doctors are human beings too
To be more at ease with both your doctor and other health care professionals try to realize that they are human beings too.
Doctors aren't superhuman
Like you doctors are subject to moods pressures and mistakes. There is no reason to be in awe of your doctor nor is there any need to blindly follow orders without asking questions.
If you tend to hold your doctor in awe as many people do you may not want to "bother" him or her with questions. If you feel this way try to remember that your doctor's job is to provide you with good medical care. Therefore you have the right to receive certain services from your doctor.
Doctors aren't mind readers or magicians
Most of the information doctors use to diagnose and treat you must come from you. Therefore your doctor needs to hear your ideas and observations. It's in your best interest to be specific about how you feel and what you think.
Also if your doctor explains something to you and you don't understand it he or she won't know that unless you say so. You might tell the doctor: "I still don't understand. Can you explain it again?" Don't feel stupid if you have to ask the same question again. Part of a doctor's job is to be an "educator" and this often means going over the same point several times.
Doctors aren't instant healers
Most forms of arthritis can't be cured, though they can be controlled. However, no one type of medication or other treatment works for everyone. You and your doctor may have to go through a period of "trial and error" to find out what works best for you. Even then your treatment program may continue to change as you change.
Health care professionals
Many health professionals may be involved in your care depending on your condition and whether they are available in your area. Some of the health care professionals you might meet are listed below. The first eight are medical doctors and the next seven are arthritis health professionals.
You are in charge
With so many skilled professionals involved it's sometimes difficult to keep everything straight. You're the central focus of the efforts made by these experts. Therefore you and your doctor need to make sure that your treatment program is understood by all the team members.
What to expect
In order to have a partnership with your doctor and other health care professionals you should expect good medical care from them. Good medical care includes being told about your arthritis and the essential facts of your treatment. This information should include costs medications side effects and other possible options for treatment.
In addition you should be assured of privacy concerning your records hospital stays and finances. If you ask for a second opinion your doctor should assist you by suggesting other physicians you can consult and by making your medical records available to the person you select.
Every member of your health care team should contribute to your good medical care. If you don't feel that you're getting the right attention from one of the members let that person and your doctor know how you feel. Remember team members aren't mind readers. It is your responsibility to inform them of your concerns. Otherwise they will probably assume that you are satisfied with the care you are getting.
It is important for you to understand that if you criticize a member of your medical team in a positive way it does not hurt his or her feelings. Your comments won't be taken personally and you will probably be thanked for helping to improve your care. By letting the team members know your feelings you can help foster the cooperative spirit that is necessary for the success of the whole team.
Preparing for a visit
To get the most out of office visits it's helpful to prepare before each appointment. Doctors appreciate your preparation because it makes their jobs easier.
Before your visit try to keep in mind:
Remember it takes time for your doctor to answer your questions. If you have many consider scheduling a longer appointment. Don't forget your doctor has other patients.
As you write down your questions also prepare a brief but accurate progress report. Your doctor will most likely ask: "Have you been following your treatment plan? How have you been feeling? Have you had any problems? What has been happening in your life?" You might find it helpful to jot down the answers to these kinds of questions ahead of time.
Be ready to report the names and the dosages of the drugs you're taking. If you're taking several medications you should bring in your pill bottles (if you're visiting a physician other than your regular doctor it's especially important to bring all your medications with you). If you don't already use a "drug usage" chart your next office visit may be a good time to discuss one with your doctor. The chart lists all of the drugs you take any special instructions and when you should take them. To show that you took your medication simply put a check in the space provided. This way you keep a permanent drug record for yourself and your doctor. If you are seeing your doctor on a return visit make a list of any refills of medicines you need.
During the visit
Following your treatment program
Part of developing a partnership with your doctor means trying your best to follow the treatment program. All too often people fail to follow their doctors' instructions for one reason or another. Perhaps they forget or they get too busy. Make working for your good health a routine. For example place your drug usage chart on your mirror or refrigerator or bathroom door to remind you to take your medications. Make a habit of doing your exercises at the same time in the same place every day. Your doctor or other members of your health care team may be able to provide other suggestions to help you follow your treatment program.
Each time you have an office visit you and your doctor have an opportunity to further develop your relationship. Discussion is a necessary part of good medical care.
Your financial needs
Don't be afraid to ask your doctor how much something will cost or if there are less expensive options. One way to save money is to ask about the possibility of prescribing generic or non-brand-name drugs which are usually less expensive. Not all arthritis drugs are available in a generic form although some are. Once you've found a medication that works for you ask your doctor to prescribe it in larger quantities which will cost less.
If you are unsure of some part of your diagnosis or treatment you can seek a second opinion from another physician. Ask your doctor to recommend a consulting physician. Sign a release form and request that a copy of your medical records be sent to the consulting physician.
Your doctor has nothing to lose and usually much to gain by helping you find a second opinion. Your diagnosis and treatment should be based on sound principles. Another opinion should only confirm this.
Usually the consultant will call or write a letter to your doctor stating findings and giving advice for treatment. Discuss the consultant's advice with your own physician and decide if the second opinion should make any difference in your treatment plan.
Your changing treatment program
Managing and controlling your arthritis is an ongoing process that has to be monitored continually. Your doctor relies on you to provide information about how you feel in order to monitor how well parts of your treatment program are working. Don't be afraid to suggest a change in your treatment to your doctor. Your efforts show that you are trying to follow your program.
Some of this material may also be available in an Arthritis Foundation brochure. Contact the Washington/Alaska Chapter Helpline: (800) 542-0295. If dialing from outside of WA and AK contact the National Helpline: (800) 283-7800.
Adapted from a pamphlet originally prepared for the Arthritis Foundation. This material is protected by copyright.