Taking an Active Role in Your Treatment Planning

Learn About Your Condition

Patient empowerment begins as we educate ourselves about our own health. Ensuring that your treatment needs are met means taking action to learn about your condition. This will help you to communicate more effectively with your healthcare team and to approach decision-making from an informed perspective.

The Arthritis Society is committed to helping you take an active role in your treatment planning by providing you with:

  • Reliable, up-to-date disease information online and in your community
  • Online interactive learning resources
  • A connection to other individuals living with arthritis through our community events and group programs

To learn more about your particular form of arthritis, visit the Arthritis Society's resource on Arthritis Types.

Set Goals for Your Treatment

For now, there is no cure for arthritis, so treatment focuses on the best way to manage the disease and its symptoms. Your unique treatment goals will change as your disease and life change.

It is a good idea to write down your treatment goals and update them as needed. Some may be related to day-to-day activities, like being able to walk a certain distance, or having more energy on the weekends to do social activities. Other goals may be specifically related to your symptoms, such as experiencing fewer flare-ups.

Take a moment to think about your treatment goals, big and small. Make a list or use our printable Arthritis Goal Tracker. Keep the Goal Tracker handy, such as on your fridge door or a bulletin board so you can be reminded of your goals and can track your progress more easily.

Prepare for an Appointment

Before an appointment, complete the Healthcare Appointment Checklist. This checklist will help you prepare for an appointment and ensure that you and your healthcare professional have all the information needed to understand your condition, make the best use of available time, and make the best decisions together for your treatment plan.

While not everything on the checklist will be necessary for each appointment, it’s good practice to review your checklist prior to meeting with a member of your healthcare team and to follow through on any relevant items. This list may be particularly helpful if you are meeting with someone for the first time. Over time, you may decide to alter the list as your circumstances change and you learn more about your condition.

Track Your Symptoms

In most cases, your symptoms will need to be described to members of your treatment team. Tell them how the symptoms affect your day-to-day activities and overall quality of life. As you might have experienced, this isn’t always easy, as each day’s activities can change your symptoms. Keep track of them so you can effectively communicate their impact and understand what contributes to making them worse or better. Start the process of tracking your symptoms well in advance of your appointment – it will be hard to remember if you try to write everything down the day before.

Our printable Daily Symptom Tracker is a simple tool to help you with this. Once you’re familiar with the tracker it will only take a minute or two to fill it out each day. It may be useful to print and share the information with your treatment team member during your appointment. Keep in mind that not all members of your treatment team will need all the information you prepare.

NOTE: The Daily Symptom Tracker is not meant to provide you with a diagnosis; it is a tool to help you to keep track of information about your arthritis, related symptoms and treatments to share with members of your treatment team.

Prepare Your Questions

Keep in mind that healthcare professionals have limited time to listen to your health concerns. Review materials such as your Arthritis Goal Tracker, Appointment Checklist and Daily Symptom Tracker to help determine the most important issues. Try to sum them up in 30 seconds or less. An example of this is, "I've been experiencing more frequent flare ups since our last appointment. I want to explore what we can do to help with this." If you have many questions or concerns and you feel like you'll need more time during an appointment, let the receptionist know when booking it. Most healthcare professionals have their own ways to accommodate longer appointments from time to time, but will need to know in advance.

For a printable list of important questions to ask, visit our Key Questions for Your Healthcare Professional resource.

Communicate With Your Treatment Team

Effective communication is key to getting the care you need. Think of your last appointment: did you feel satisfied when you left the appointment? Don’t be afraid to tell your healthcare professional what's on your mind. Your treatment team is there to meet YOUR needs. Open communication can ensure that they understand your concerns as well as how to best address them.

When meeting with your treatment team members, you should feel comfortable discussing health issues, sharing treatment goals and asking questions. It's important to be honest if you are uncomfortable with any decisions or if you don't understand information provided. If a treatment isn’t working, rather than stopping the treatment, discuss alternatives with your treatment team member. To learn more about the various types of healthcare professionals that may be part of your arthritis treatment team, please visit Your Treatment Team.

During and After Your Appointment

Make sure to give the full story

Provide as much information as you can about your current condition, focusing on key points to keep your explanation brief. Describe whether there was a trigger that led to your symptoms or if there have been any changes recently.

Be honest

If there is some aspect of your treatment plan that you think will be hard to follow or that you're uncomfortable with, explain this to your treatment team member. Never stop a treatment before discussing it with your healthcare professional.

Don’t be afraid to speak up

Tell your treatment team member what's on your mind, even when it is difficult or embarrassing. This can be challenging, but the more your team members know, the more they can help you.

Know your options

Ask for all possible treatment options from your healthcare professional. It is rare for there to be just one.

Check to make sure you understand

Make sure you understand everything your treatment team member has said. If you’re not sure, repeat back what they told you and ask if you’ve understood correctly. You can also ask your treatment team member to repeat the information, write it down or draw a diagram.

Partner with your treatment team

Let your treatment team know that it’s important to you to be part of your treatment decision-making. Emphasize that you respect their expertise, but you want to understand their thinking when making recommendations. Let them know your expectations about treatment planning so that they can clearly communicate to you what is possible.

After your appointment

Once you and your healthcare professional agree on a treatment plan, it is important for you to understand what you need to do between appointments. Take notes during your appointment for reference later. Afterwards, make a record of what happened. We've created a downloadable Post-Appointment Record tool that you can use to help record treatment team member’s advice during your appointment.

Addressing Issues

You may not always be satisfied with everything you are told by your healthcare professional. In these instances, consider the following:

  • Make sure you have provided all the information that you can to help with diagnosis and treatment planning, including information about your needs and treatment goals.
  • Be clear with your treatment team. If something is not working or will not work for you, have an open, honest and respectful discussion about any misgivings you may have.
  • Double-check that you are following the treatment plan as recommended by your team.
  • Consider connecting with a patient group in person or online to find support and solutions that meets your needs.

If you have followed the steps above and remain unsatisfied, talk to your doctor about being referred to another specialist. This is never easy, but if you are uncomfortable with the diagnosis or treatment plan recommended to you, get a second opinion. Keep in mind that if you live in a smaller, or under-served community, you may need to travel to another region for a second opinion.

If you have a serious concern with a treatment team member:

It is possible that you may have a serious concern about a member of your treatment team. Sometimes difficulties may arise when communication between you and the member of your treatment team is not clear. It is always best to explain your concerns directly to your treatment team member. Call the office and ask for time to meet and discuss your concerns. If it is too uncomfortable or inappropriate for you to present your concerns in person, you can write a letter or ask to speak to the clinic manager or the team member's supervisor. It is important to present your concerns factually and respectfully. You may come to a resolution and there will be no need to take it any further. If you are not satisfied with the resolution, there are other approaches you can take.

Most members of your treatment team are members of either a regulatory or certifying body. These organizations have a formal complaints process for you to follow if you wish to file a complaint. Contact the appropriate organization for details. For example, your family doctor will have a diploma that certifies that he or she is a member of the College of Family Physicians in that province. One responsibility of the College is to respond to concerns and to investigate complaints from members of the public about doctors licensed to practice medicine in that province.

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This resource was made possible through unrestricted educational grants from:
Self-Advocacy Guide Supported By