By Nathan Wei
People often spend more time preparing for their vacations than they do selecting the right physician to take care of the most important aspect of their life, which is their health. This is particularly true when it comes to arthritis. And thats a shame because…
Arthritis is the number one cause of crippling in the United States
It causes significant pain and often inability to perform activities of daily living
It is a very treatable disorder
Early diagnosis and treatment can improve prognosis greatly
There is an assumption that if you have arthritis, all you need to do is see any rheumatologist (arthritis specialist).
This is a myth!
… because not all arthritis specialists have the same level of knowledge, experience, and training.
You want more than a specialist… you want an expert! And this article will tell you what to look for.
Expertise is earned through constant learning and training. What you should insist on in an arthritis specialist are the following
Graduate of an American medical school
Training in both internal medicine and radiology at a major university teaching hospital
Board certification in both internal medicine and rheumatology
Fellowship at a research center like the National Institutes of Health
More than 20 years of practice experience
More than 50 publications in the medical literature
Access to new arthritis medicines through research studies- this shows a commitment to keeping current!
National reputation for expertise
Faculty appointment at a medical school
At least 500 entries in a major search engine like Google (To do this type in the doctors name in quotes like this… John Smith and the word, arthritis. The number of entries should pop up in the upper right hand corner.)
It is helpful if the arthritis specialist is not located too far away because they need to monitor your care and thats much easier to do when the patient is relatively close geographically.
Consider asking this question Doctor, did you pass the board exam in rheumatology on your first attempt?
The rheumatology board exam is a grueling test. Twenty-one percent of first time applicants fail!! (Statistics from the American Board of Internal Medicine).
One concern for many people is this: How much will this cost…. can I afford it?
Here you must make an important distinction between price and value. Price is what you pay- the cost. Value is what you get in relation to what you pay.
Let me explain…
Lets say you go to see the cheapest physician… the one who participates with your insurance. On the surface, the price or cost is cheap.
But, if you get ten minutes of the doctors time and have to spend a lot of time running from doctor to doctor trying to get a diagnosis, getting test after test without a definite result…and if you spend days, weeks, months feeling awful because treatments arent working, if you miss work and family trips and vacations because of poor or inadequate therapies…. then the cost to you may be enormous. This is very poor value.
Many expert physicians refuse to participate with insurance companies because if they sign an insurance contract, they are in essence an employee of the insurance company. That presents a major conflict of interest since what is best for the patient is often not the best thing for the insurance company. Dont you want the physician to be working for you?
The fact that a physician doesnt participate with your insurance doesnt mean you cant get reimbursed for services because most private insurance companies will let you see out of network physicians. Youll have to pay more but this expense is worth it.
If you invest wisely and see an expert who really knows his or her stuff and makes the diagnosis quickly, gets you feeling better quickly, gets your quality of life back quickly, prevents crippling and disability, gets you back to work and leisure activities, monitors you carefully for side-effects, directs you to the best treatments for your condition, takes your hand and leads you on the right path… then the value you receive is enormous. After all, what is your health worth to you?
About the Author: Nathan Wei, MD FACP FACR is a rheumatologist and Director of the Arthritis and Osteoporosis Center of Maryland. He is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. For more info: