8 Tips for Choosing a Rheumatologist

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Sarah Lewis, PharmD on May 11, 2020
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    A Personal Decision
    Choosing a rheumatologist is one of the most important and personal decisions you can make for the health of your joints, tendons, ligaments, bones and muscles. You will rely on your rheumatologist’s knowledge and expertise in diseases that tend to be complex, change with time, and can be difficult to diagnose. Take the following issues into consideration when choosing the best rheumatologist for you.
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    1. Get Referrals
    A good doctor-patient relationship develops with time and is built on trust and communication. You can ensure a good start by taking the time to find the best rheumatologist who is right for you or a family member. Start with a referral list from your primary care doctor. This list will likely contain rheumatologists who can work closely with your primary care doctor to coordinate your care. Also, ask family, friends, and other healthcare providers for recommendations. 
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    2. Research the Rheumatologist’s Credentials
    Rheumatologists are dual-board certified in internal medicine and rheumatology. Board certification is one of the most important factors to consider; it tells you that the doctor has the needed training, skills and experience to provide healthcare in rheumatology. Also, confirm that the rheumatologist has no history of malpractice claims or disciplinary actions. You can find the rheumatologist’s medical school, training hospital, certifications, and malpractice and disciplinary history on Healthgrades.com and state websites.
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    3. Consider the Rheumatologist’s Experience
    When you’re facing complex, changing and, sometimes, vague rheumatic conditions, experience matters. The more experience a rheumatologist has with a condition or procedure, the better your treatment results are likely to be. Ask how many patients with your specific condition the rheumatologist has treated. If you know you need a specific procedure, ask the rheumatologist how many of the procedures he or she has performed and find out about complication rates—complications the doctor has encountered as well as your own risk of complications. 
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    4. Consider Gender
    It is important for you to feel comfortable with your rheumatologist’s gender because you will need to openly discuss personal information. Consider whether gender makes a difference to you and whether you might feel inhibited or awkward in front of a rheumatologist of a certain gender. Be sure to ask the rheumatologist about his or her recent training and experience specifically related to your condition and your gender, and if he or she cares for women and men differently.
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    5. Ask About Telehealth Capabilities
    Healthcare providers can diagnose and treat some patients using telecommunications technology, including two-way video, smartphones, and email; it's called telehealth. Ask if the doctor offers telehealth capabilities. Telehealth doesn’t replace hands-on in-person office visits, but for many patients, it means fewer trips to the doctor’s office. Some conditions can be managed by sending symptoms and vital signs you collect at home and having a “virtual visit” with your provider. Telehealth can also be used for routine follow-ups and minor complaints too, making it a convenient option. Check to make sure your health insurance will pay for telehealth services.
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    6. Evaluate Communication Style
    Choose a rheumatologist with whom you are comfortable talking and who supports your information needs. When you first meet the rheumatologist, ask a question and notice how he or she responds. Does he or she welcome your questions and answer them in ways that you can understand? Afterwards, did you feel rushed or engaged? Find a rheumatologist who shows an interest in getting to know you, who will consider your treatment preferences, and who will respect your decision-making process.
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    7. Read Patient Reviews
    Reading what other people have to say about a doctor can provide insight not only into how a doctor practices medicine, but also how his or her medical practice is operated. Patient reviews typically reflect people's experience with scheduling appointments, wait times, office environment, and office friendliness. You can learn what people have to say about their level of trust with a doctor, how much time he or she spends with their patients, and how well the doctor answers questions.
  • Know What Your Insurance Covers
    8. Know What Your Insurance Covers
    Your insurance coverage is a practical matter. To receive the most insurance benefits and pay the least out-of-pocket for your care, you may need to choose a rheumatologist who participates in your plan. You should still consider credentials, experience, outcomes, and hospital quality as you select a rheumatologist from your plan.
8 Tips for Choosing a Rheumatologist

About The Author

Sarah Lewis is a pharmacist and a medical writer with over 25 years of experience in various areas of pharmacy practice. Sarah holds a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy degree from West Virginia University and a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. She completed Pharmacy Practice Residency training at the University of Pittsburgh/VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. 
  1. Arthritis and Rheumatic Diseases. National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. http://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/arthritis/arthritis_rheumatic.asp
  2. What Is a Rheumatologist? American College of Rheumatology. http://www.rheumatology.org/I-Am-A/Patient-Caregiver/Health-Care-Team/What-is-a-Rheumatologist
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2017 Jul 24
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.