Choosing a doctor is one of the most important medical decisions you make, and when you are living with a chronic illness where you will need ongoing, long term care and support, having the right physician for your circumstances becomes critical to your ability to deal successfully with your condition.
But when the condition you have is often misunderstood—like fibromyalgia—finding that great doctor can be difficult.
Searching for the right doctor can be discouraging, overwhelming and depressing. But I’ve put together some information and a few guidelines than can make the process far easier and less stressful for you.
When you are looking for the best possible doctor for your care, it is logical to begin by asking your friends and family members about their physicians, but unless they also have fibromyalgia, that may not be sufficient. If possible, check with the members of a FM support group in your area for recommendations, or ask someone you already respect in the medical profession if they know of a physician who has experience with fibromyalgia.
It’s very important to find out how much experience a doctor has with fibromyalgia. Some physicians may not yet be well educated about FM and, sadly, there are still some physicians who erroneously believe that FM is an “emotional problem,” not a physiological condition. Obviously these are not the right physicians for you.
Do some doctor sleuthing on your own. Ask for referrals from local hospitals, being specific about your requirements.
Check out the yellow pages. Tell everyone you know you are looking for a good doctor, and contact each recommendation to gather additional information. Some family practice and internal medicine doctors are very familiar with FM and treat FM patients. In addition, although there is not a specific physician specialties category for fibromyalgia, the American College of Rheumatology has well-established fibromyalgia guidelines for their physicians, so many rheumatologists not only understand, but are well experienced in treating FM. Compile a list of possibilities and make lots of telephone inquiries!
Once you have several good possible candidates, schedule mini appointments to meet the top three on your list. The receptionist should be able to tell you about the doctor’s credentials, education and training. Let the appointment scheduler and physician know up front that you want to meet with the doctor to help you decide whether or not they would be the best fit of you. (Don’t be embarrassed—it’s done all the time!) Then, at each appointment find out the following information:
- What is the doctor’s belief about fibromyalgia?
- How many FM patients has she/he treated and for how long?
- Do you feel like this doctor is genuinely listening carefully to your concerns?
- Are you comfortable with how your questions are being answered? Are things being explained in an understandable way?
- Does this doctor work as part of a group of other doctors? Who covers for the doctor if she/he is unavailable?
- Does this doctor seem knowledgeable? Empathic? Supportive? Is there a rapport?
Make notes after each visit and make comparisons based on the criteria most important to you. When you are ready to make a decision, trust your gut feeling about which doctor is the best choice for you. Your relationship with your doctor will be intimate and ongoing. Only you can judge whether or not you feel comfortable, secure, and confident that this is someone you can rely to manage your medical care. Once your choice is made, schedule a full appointment, and be aware that you will need to give your doctor-patient relationship some time to develop and flourish.
At every appointment, keep in mind that your part in building a good relationship with your doctor will go a long way to ensuring you have compassionate as well as skilled medical support dealing with your symptoms and finding the right treatment therapies for your specific needs. While choosing the right doctor was your first step, you can’t just stop there! Take an active role in your care!
Here are a few “tools” to help you build a good partnership between yourself and your doctor:
SYMPTOM LOG: Keep a log in which you list the symptoms you experience with the date they occur, what you were doing when they began, how long they lasted, what you tried for relief, and how well it worked. This is an effective way to document how your illness is affecting your life because it chronicles your pain, brain fog, fatigue, sleep problems and ability to function. It also provides a visual timetable that will assist your doctor in deciding what treatment options might work best for your specific situation.
MEDICAL HISTORY SUMMARY: This is a “must do” for anyone with a chronic illness. Put together a simple page of information that summarizes, chronologically, all the major medical events in your life such as hospitalizations, surgeries, illnesses, and treatments or therapies. Be sure to include any allergic reactions to medications! Give a copy to your doctor and keep a copy at home.
CURRENT MEDICATION LIST: Keep an up-to-date list of all the medications you are taking, (prescription and over the counter) with the dosage and how often you take them. This is important information to take to every visit to your doctor, and having a copy of this at home can be very helpful to you when you are experiencing brain fog!
QUESTION / CONCERN LIST: Clear and complete communication between yourself and your doctor is imperative to your care. Even the best and most compassionate physician is not a mind reader, so unless you ask questions, report problems with medicines or treatments, and accurately portray your symptoms, your doctor won’t be have the necessary information to successfully manage your care. Before every appointment make a list of questions and concerns to take to your doctor. This saves time, prevents your forgetting anything, and becomes a reference point for future visits.
ASK FOR A WRITTEN “PLAN OF ACTION:” Ask your doctor to write down the instructions and treatment plan you will be responsible for carrying out after the appointment. This should include changes in medications, and when to schedule your next appointment. If you are experiencing Brain Fog, take someone with you to your appointment to help you get absolute clarity about your care.
KEEP A FOLDER OF YOUR MEDICAL CARE: Keep copies of the information you take with you to your appointments, along with your treatment plans, medical history, lab reports, and any other paperwork pertinent to your healthcare. Having everything organized and easy to locate will be helpful should you move or change doctors. It’s also good information to have when you travel.
IN BETWEEN APPOINTMENTS: Be proactive about your care. It is your responsibility to follow the plan your doctor gave you. Do your absolute best to follow your doctor's suggestions, and if you experience any problems with them, do not hesitate to call and report it! If your condition worsens or changes call and let them know. Don’t wait for a problem to become overwhelming before seeking medical advice and assistance!
It is well known that when patients have good relationships with their doctors, they are more satisfied with their care and that their treatments yield optimal results. You’re living with a chronic and sometimes debilitating disease, and you absolutely deserve the best possible support and medical care.
Finding a good physician to be your partner, taking the time to build a good relationship, and maintaining clear communications are well worth your effort!
It’s your partnership. It’s your health! It’s your life!
Eve Reddin Lennon is a certified life coach for people who are chronically ill. You can find information about individual and group coaching, seminars and retreats on her website: http://www.abundant-life-coaching.net/.