Go team: Who can help with your health treatment plan
Managing your arthritis is a team effort. As the person with arthritis, you are the ultimate expert on what specifically works for you to keep you as healthy as possible. And as the ultimate expert, you draw on other people’s expertise to help you live the life you want. Here’s the lineup that could be available to you, depending on your personal budget for health care, and your provincial, private or employer insurance plan.
In addition to managing your primary care needs (which includes acute care management and prescribing medications), a family doctor also acts as a gatekeeper, referring you to a rheumatologist, surgeon, occupational therapist, physiotherapist or psychologist.
A nurse can take your medical history, provide counseling, coordinate your care, administer medications and perform minor medical procedures. He or she may also have additional specialist training in pain management or rheumatology.
A nurse practitioner has university training beyond standard nursing training, and works with other healthcare providers to complement their care. In many settings, this means he or she can order tests, prescribe medicine and diagnose and treat illnesses.
Internist/Internal medicine specialist
An internist is a medical doctor trained in the diagnosis and treatment of disease. She or he acts as a link between a family doctor and other specialists, sometimes handling your care as a patient until you go back to the care of your family physician.
In Canada, rheumatologists are trained at universities with arthritis centres that combine care, teaching and research. If your osteoarthritis is difficult to manage or you have inflammatory arthritis (such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis) you may be referred to a rheumatologist for diagnosis and treatment.
An orthopaedic surgeon is specially trained to assess problems with bones, joints, muscles, ligaments and cartilage, and performs surgery if necessary to correct or prevent further damage.
In arthritis care, you would most often see a dermatologist to evaluate and identify psoriatic arthritis, which often begins with the skin condition psoriasis.
An occupational therapist holds an advanced university degree and works with you to develop a plan that includes adaptive strategies and tools to help you protect your joints and keep fatigue to a minimum as you go about your daily life (including dressing, making meals, handling chores and doing your job).
A physiotherapist also has an advanced university degree. He or she assesses your mobility, range of motion and strength and then designs a treatment plan that includes exercise and relaxation techniques to reduce pain and boost your overall quality of life.
A social worker deals with quality of life issues, which could mean helping you access services from government departments and outside organizations that provide benefits like pensions, home support or job retraining. Another part of a social worker’s role is treatment: offering help in coping with depression or anger, and assisting family members.
A pharmacist has advanced training in physiology, biology and disease with a specialization in medicines. She or he can advise you about potential side effects and interactions of drugs. If you’re having trouble with side effects, you can check with your pharmacist to see if you need fast medical attention or if it’s safe to adjust your dosage (and of course, you should discuss the situation at your next doctor’s appointment).
A dietitian has a university degree and can help you get all the information you need about nutrients, vitamins, food prep and weight maintenance.
Trained in the assessment, prevention and treatment of musculoskeletal conditions, a chiropractor can recommend injury prevention strategies.
A massage therapist is a graduate of a recognized massage therapy school and uses massage techniques to restore soft tissue flexibility, help with injury rehabilitation and improve function associated with disability.