Your healthcare team is much like a baseball team. It includes many players, each with a different position to play. You are the team manager. You must coordinate the activities of these players with the team goal in mind-controlling your arthritis. Every decision is ultimately up to you, you decide what gets done and what doesn’t get done. You decide who plays and who gets benched. You trade the players who aren’t working well with you and hire new ones.
Some of the players on your team may include:
Family physician, general practitioner, primary care physician or internal medicine doctor: Chances are this was the first player on your team. You probably saw him before any other medical professional. This is the person that needs to refer you to a specialist if the symptoms call for it.
Rheumatologist: She may become your most valuable player. These board-certified doctors are specially trained to treat arthritis. If you are diagnosed with anything more than a mild form of arthritis, chance are you will get to know this player very well.
Ophthalmologist: Eye doctor for arthritis? Yup! Some forms of arthritis can involve the eye and many of the medications we take have the potential to damage the eyes. This is an important team member.
Orthopedic surgeon: Hopefully you will never need surgery, but surgeons do more than operate. They may recommend treatment or therapy and inject certain joints if needed. In some cases you may have more than one surgeon on your team. Many orthopedic surgeons specialize in one particular area. You may have a hand specialist, another for the knee and still another for the ankle.
Nurses: Some nurses specialize in arthritis. They assist doctors, perform some procedures, draw your blood and answer questions. Often times they are the middleman between you and your doctor, treat them well…you may need them!
Occupational therapists: OT’s can be very important to someone with arthritis. They can help you find easier ways to do everyday activities, fit you with splints to lessen the stress on your joints and recommended aids and devices.
Physical therapists: Sometimes the most hated players, their job is not an easy one. They may assist you in rehabilitation or help you help strengthen joints and muscles and increase range-of-motion with exercise. It is not nice to call them Physical Terrorists to their face!
Pharmacists: You may find yourself becoming good friends with your pharmacists, sometimes we sure do see a lot of them! Besides filling your prescriptions, they can tell you the right way to take them, explain how the drugs work, and tell you what to expect from them.
Alternative medicine practitioners: If you choose to use acupuncture, Chinese medicine, homeopathy, or another form of complementary medicine you must find a practitioner that is willing to work with the other members of your team.
Psychiatrists and psychologists: Arthritis can bring a big bag of emotional difficulties to your life. These professionals are available to help you work through these difficulties.
Friends and Family: Support is essential….these people will be key players in the support role.