Rheumatologists typically play one of two roles in patient care:

  • A rheumatologist may serve as the patient's primary medical doctor, providing therapy and coordinating care for a patient.
  • A rheumatologist may work with a patient to diagnose a condition and recommend a tailored treatment plan that can be implemented by the patient and his or her primary care doctor.

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The second option is most common. In these cases a primary care provider oversees a patient's care, and the patient may revisit the rheumatologist once a year for monitoring or when the treatment plan needs to be adjusted.

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How to Prepare for an Appointment with a Rheumatologist

By the time a patient has an appointment with a rheumatologist, a patient has typically been experiencing symptoms for a long time and is in desperate need of relief. Below are things that patients can do to make sure their appointments with rheumatologists are productive:

  • Keep a diary of symptoms, such as what precedes the onset of pain, what relieves pain, and the presence of fever, and bring the diary to the appointment

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  • Be prepared to offer a detailed description of symptoms and answer questions honestly
  • Bring a list of any medications and nutritional supplements (and in what doses) being used
  • Bring a list of questions for the doctor; if necessary, ask follow-up questions
  • Avoid wearing nail polish and make-up to the appointment, because the color and condition of skin and nails may offer clues to an accurate diagnosis
  • Take notes during the appointment; consider bringing a family member or friend to help ensure that the recommended next steps in treatment are understood and remembered

Clear and honest communication between the rheumatologist and patient will lead to better health outcomes.

Rheumatologists' Education and Training

Board-certified rheumatologists undergo extensive education and training that qualifies them to work with either children (pediatrics) or adults (internal medicine).

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Education and training includes:

  • 4 years of medical school
  • 3 years of resident training in internal medicine or pediatrics
  • A national board exam administered by either the American Board of Internal Medicine or the American Board of Pediatrics
  • 2 to 3 years of rheumatology fellowship training in an accredited medical setting
  • A subspecialty certification exam administered by either the American Board of Internal Medicine or the American Board of Pediatrics

Dr. Judith Frank is a rheumatologist and internal medicine physician. She has been practicing for nearly 30 years, specializing in osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, and lupus. She completed her Doctor of Medicine degree, residency, and fellowship training from Rush University.