Although Rheumatoid Arthritis affects more than 1.3 million Americans, approximately one percent of the population, there are only about 6,000 rheumatologists in the US – and not all of them work full-time.That means it can sometimes be tough to get specialty care. Unfortunately, this trend is expected to grow as demand for rheumatology care increases in the years ahead while the number of rheumatologists continues to fall.
Depending on your situation, at some point you may find yourself, or someone you know, managing RA under the care of a primary care physician (PCP) without specialized training in rheumatology. Crescendo Bioscience Patient Ambassador Meredith Boutte recently found herself in that situation after moving and finding that the closest rheumatologist was too far from where she now lives.
“At times, it has been frustrating because previously I was with a rheumatologist who was up on the latest RA information,” said Meredith. “At first I found myself spending valuable appointment time talking in broader terms about RA, rather than focusing specifically on my progress since the last appointment. I had to learn new strategies for getting the most out of my appointments and ensuring that my RA is managed in a way that is comfortable for me.”
We sat down with Meredith to get her input on how patients in her situation can maximize their time with their PCP to get the best care possible. Her advice:
- Be comfortable with your PCP. The most important aspect of any physician relationship is that you are comfortable with your doctor! You should feel free to ask any questions you have and know that the physician is open to working as a team.
- Understand your doctor’s style. When you are working with a PCP, it’s likely you will know more about certain aspects of your disease than they do! You might find yourself passing along information about a certain treatment (or the Vectra® DA test!) to your doctor for evaluation. Make sure you know how your doctor likes to receive information – whether through emails, via the website, or in person when you meet for your appointment.
- Come prepared for your appointment. In advance of your appointment, gather all of the information you need to relay to your physician and make a list of questions you want to ask. You likely will want to share changes in your condition since your last appointment, your experience with your medication and how you have been feeling. Consider using Crescendo’s MyRA online tracker, a user-friendly app that helps patients communicate better with their doctors about their RA symptoms. The four-star rated app received significant recognition, including HealthLine’s 2016 “Best RA App” award. Learn more about how we developed MyRA here.
- Stay informed. Because your PCP sees a range of patients with a range of conditions, it’s natural that he or she may not have time to stay up-to-date with all of the latest developments in RA. Luckily, there are a number of organizations, such as the Arthritis Foundation, Creaky Joints, the Rheumatoid Patient Foundation, and others, that have the info. If you don’t have a local chapter in your area, you can always access info – and connect with other patients – online. Click this link for a list of online resources highlighted by the Rheumatoid Arthritis Support Network. When appropriate, you may want to bring the information to your doctor’s attention.
- Be willing to do some legwork. When Meredith learned that her PCP wasn’t aware of Vectra, she reached out to Crescendo Bioscience to ask for information she could share with her doctor. Many companies are happy to provide information about their products, so don’t be shy to ask for what you need! Crescendo Bioscience has a partnership with LabCorp, through which patients can receive Vectra tests at any LabCorp facility. All that is needed is a “lab slip” from the patient’s physician. Results from the test go to the physician and patient when patients are registered for MyVectra.
- Do homework before selecting your PCP. If you find yourself selecting a PCP to help manage your RA, it can be helpful to find out if your doctor has a relationship with a consulting rheumatologist. In areas without access to specialty care, network physicians may be able to consult with specialists in the same network to get additional input on particular cases.
Have any tips to share? We’d love to know. Tell us in the “Comments” section below.