According to the article published in the American College of Rheumatology (ACR), over the next ten years, the demand for rheumatology services is expected to increase by 46%. It is expected that the number of practicing rheumatologists will only increase by 1.2%.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than 54 million Americans live with doctor-diagnosed rheumatic diseases in the United States.
Add those people with joint pain that has not been formally diagnosed, and that number is closer to 91 million, or nearly 1 in 3 Americans.
With these numbers, it is not unusual to expect a longer waiting time to see a rheumatologist. So when you do get an appointment after waiting for several weeks or months, depending on the geographical area you live in, make sure you are prepared for your appointment.
Rheumatology is a complex specialty of medicine. So make sure to follow some of these tips prior to your appointment.
1) If you have seen a rheumatologist previously, make sure to take your previous records. It can save you and your rheumatologist a lot of time and unnecessary testing. In my practice, I always do my independent assessment regardless of your previous diagnosis, but it still helps a lot to have some information available during the first visit.
2) If you had any recent labs, make sure to take those results with you. I respect our resources and avoid duplicating blood work whenever I can.
3) Always keep up to date list of medications with dose and frequency. In my practice, whenever I prescribe medication, I always check drug interactions with my patient's other medications.
4) Make a list of your main complaints and take pictures of any rash or swollen joints in a good light whenever possible. Nothing is more frustrating for patients to wait for weeks with that rash or a swollen joint to show it to a rheumatologist, only to not have those findings on the of your visit. I can not tell you how may times I have diagnosed people by looking at the pictures of their hands.
5) Ask questions! Yes, I am busy in my practice, but I always have time to answer my patient's questions. My visits always end with me asking a question to patients - "Do you have any question for me?" Make sure you are prepared with your questions; otherwise, you will be driving home thinking about all the questions you should have asked.
It is crucial to develop rapport and trust with your rheumatologist. The first meeting between patient and physician is the most critical visit for diagnosis and future treatment plans in rheumatology. I always do my homework and review available records before seeing all my patients to provide the best care. And I recommend you should do the same.
So when you wait a long time to see a rheumatologist, make the most out of your first appointment.
Dr. Reshma M. Khan