Working together with your healthcare team can help you effectively manage your condition. There may be a range of doctors and health professionals who may be involved with your ongoing treatment or management so it is important to know what each of them do:
General practitioner (GP) or family doctor
GP’s practice general medicine, focusing on holistic (the person as a whole) and continuing care. Your GP is usually the first doctor you see, and the one who coordinates your care and the management of your condition. GPs have a broad knowledge base that allows them to diagnose and treat most illnesses. They are also able to refer you to specialist doctors and other healthcare professionals as needed, who then advise or recommend various treatments and contribute to your overall management plan.
Your GP may refer you to an appropriate specialist if the need arises. Your GP may recommend a specialist for you or you may choose your own. Medical specialists are available in hospitals and private practice, with some shortages in rural and regional areas.
“Rheumatologists are specialist physicians who have expertise in diagnosing and treating diseases of the joints, muscles and bones” (Australian Rheumatology Association, 2007). For more information, including how to find a rheumatologist, contact the Australian Rheumatology Association on (02) 9256 5458 or visit www.rheumatology.org.au
Orthopaedic surgeons manage patients with bone, joint, ligament, tendon, nerve and muscle disorders. This may involve non-surgical or surgical treatments. Some orthopaedic surgeons practice in a sub-specialty involving specific joints such as the knee or hip. For more information about how to find an orthopaedic surgeon contact the Australian Orthopaedic Association on (02) 9233 3018 or visit www.aoa.org.au
Nursing covers the promotion of health, prevention of illness and the care of people of all ages with physical or mental illness or disability. Nurses generally work in hospitals, out-patient clinics, aged care services, community health services, general and specialist medical practices and midwifery and child care services.
Allied health professionals
The following health professionals may also help you manage your arthritis:
- Dieticians provide advice about healthy eating, weight loss and special dietary requirements. To find a dietician contact the Dieticians Association of Australia on (02) 6282 9555 or use the ‘find a dietician’ service at www.daa.asn.au
- Occupational Therapists (OTs) assess activities of daily living and occupation to enable people to do things that will enhance their ability to participate or, if necessary, by making modifications to the environment to assist participation. An OT may, for example, recommend the use of physical aids to improve function or may help people re-learn skills, such as how to dress. They generally work in hospitals, community health centres, government and non-government organisations and residential care facilities.
- Pharmacists provide information about prescription and over-the-counter medicines and keeping healthy. They prepare and dispense medicines according to statutory regulations and specific guidelines. Pharmacists can help you to understand your medicines and how to use them safely. Pharmacists generally work in community pharmacies and hospitals.
- Physiotherapists asses and treat issues affecting human movement, particularly joint muscle and nerve problems, with an increasing emphasis on preventative physiotherapy. They generally work in hospitals, rehabilitation centres, private practice, community health centres, special schools and industry.
- Podiatrists assess and treat people who have various feet and lower leg disorders. They can help you with footwear and shoe inserts if you have arthritis in your feet, legs or spine.
- Psychologists and Clinical psychologists are specialists in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of psychological issues including difficult emotions you feel as a result of your condition. They can also teach you certain techniques to help you manage your pain. They generally work in hospitals, private practice, general medical practices and community health centres.
- Social workers aim to help individuals, families and groups with various problems. Common problems include financial difficulties, personal and family relationships, health, housing and the care of children, the elderly, the disabled and other groups. They help people access community and government services, welfare benefits and support groups. They generally work in hospitals, community health centres and various government and non-government organisations.
To get the most out of your visits to your doctor or other health professionals, it is important to be prepared.