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We’re dedicated to sharing the perspectives of people affected by chronic inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis (RA). That’s why we created Arthritis.com, a place where people living with RA can find inspiration, lifestyle advice, tools and disease information. Following is an article from Arthritis.com contributor and editorial board member Ara Dikranian, M.D. Dr. Dikranian was compensated by Pfizer to share his perspective as a rheumatologist.
Whether you’re newly diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or you’ve been living with the disease for years, you’ve undoubtedly seen a doctor to help you navigate your RA treatment.
As a rheumatologist for more than 18 years, my role is to offer medical knowledge and experience; however, I’m aware that effective disease management plans are best made as a team effort between doctors and patients.
This begins with strong communication, built on an understanding that people living with RA can, and should, feel comfortable talking with their doctors about RA symptoms and the lifestyle challenges they face as a result of living with a chronic, inflammatory condition. It’s through conversations like these that I, and other doctors, can assess how RA symptoms are being addressed, or if an adjustment should be made to a patient’s disease management plan.
The first step toward a stronger doctor-patient relationship is removing barriers to effective communication, such as:
Recognizing the role you play as a patient
Communication is challenging in any relationship, and if it feels especially difficult during doctor appointments, you’re not alone.
Advice: It’s important to recognize that while your doctor has medical expertise, you live with the condition every day and know your body best. I encourage my patients to speak up during appointments, so that I can take into account their perspectives.
- Advice: It’s important to recognize that while your doctor has medical expertise, you live with the condition every day and know your body best. I encourage my patients to speak up during appointments, so that I can take into account their perspectives.
Understanding the impact of electronic medical records (EMRs)
EMRs have become necessary tools in today’s healthcare system. The flipside of this new reality is that doctors are often typing or interacting with a computer or tablet during appointments. Even though we are doing our best to listen, summarize and actively engage, I know that it can be difficult for some patients to believe their doctor is truly paying attention.
Advice: If there are things you want to cover during your appointment, be sure to let your doctor know at the beginning of the appointment.
- Advice: If there are things you want to cover during your appointment, be sure to let your doctor know at the beginning of the appointment.
Make the most of limited time during appointments
I know from experience that many doctors fear they’ll run out of time if a patient goes off track. As a result, your doctor could do most of the talking during appointments to guide the conversation to ensure everything necessary is covered.
Advice: Come prepared with a list of items you’d like to discuss with your doctor to help ensure the conversation stays organized.
- Advice: Come prepared with a list of items you’d like to discuss with your doctor to help ensure the conversation stays organized.
Don’t be afraid to approach taboo topics
It’s not uncommon to feel like there are certain topics about your daily life that are taboo or don’t belong in a conversation with your doctor. For example, you may feel a doctor is not equipped to handle the emotional well-being challenges that can occur as a result of living with RA. That doesn’t mean those issues aren’t important or that they don’t belong in your discussion.
- Advice: To prepare for difficult conversations with your doctor, I recommend writing down your concerns and practicing any questions in advance. Download the Doctor Conversations worksheet for a helpful tool to aid in having these conversations. Your doctor should acknowledge your concerns and refer you to a specialist if he or she is not able to help you directly. If you don’t feel comfortable discussing issues related to emotional well-being, anxiety or intimacy, all of which may reduce your quality of life and affect your RA disease activity, you may also engage the nurses or assistant staff in the clinic for guidance.
Improving communication between you and your doctor is essential to helping you achieve your RA goals. Sign up for more information and tips from Arthritis.com.
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