A range of healthcare professionals may be involved in helping you manage your arthritis. Find out what each member of your healthcare team does and how to find them. Get tips on getting the most from a visit to your health professional.
Your healthcare team can help you manage your arthritis. Learn ways to work effectively with your healthcare team.
General practitioner (GP or local doctor)
Your GP is usually your main provider of health care. Your GP should be your first point of contact for any concerns you have about your arthritis or other health issues. Your GP can help you coordinate your overall health care, including making referrals to specialists if needed. Your GP may also have a practice nurse. A practice nurse can provide information and coordinate your care with the other members of your healthcare team.
Your GP can refer you to an appropriate specialist. Your GP may recommend a specialist for you, or you may wish to choose your own. Most specialists see patients either at public hospitals or in private clinics. They may charge a fee for your appointment if working outside the public hospital system. This fee may be partly or mostly reimbursed through Medicare. Check the likely costs when making an appointment. If cost is a problem, discuss this with your GP.
- Rheumatologist: A rheumatologist is a doctor who specialises in diagnosis and medical treatment of joint, muscle and bone disorders. You may be referred to a rheumatologist if the cause of your symptoms is unclear or if you have a type of arthritis that needs specialist care.
- Dermatologist: A dermatologist specialises in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases involving the skin, hair and nails. You may be referred to a dermatologist if you have psoriasis, an inflammatory skin disorder that causes thick, scaly patches on the skin.
- Gastroenterologist: A gastroenterologist specialises in diseases that affect the gastrointestinal system (gut). You may be referred to a gastroenterologist if you develop gastrointestinal problems, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
- Ophthalmologist: An ophthalmologist are specialists in eye care, including, diagnosing, and treating health conditions affecting the eye. People with axSpA have a higher risk of developing uveitis, inflammation of the uvea (middle layer of the eye) eye most commonly affecting the iris. Your GP may refer you to an ophthalmologist if you develop uveitis.
- Orthopaedic surgeon: An orthopaedic surgeon specialises in diagnosis and surgical treatment of bone, muscle and joint disorders. The surgeon will discuss your need for surgery and other management options with you.
Allied health professionals
The following health professionals may also help you manage your arthritis:
- Dietitians are experts in food and nutrition. They provide advice about healthy eating, weight loss and diets for medical conditions, such as diabetes.
- Exercise physiologists can give you advice about exercise, including the best types of exercise for your health and ability.
- Occupational therapists(OT) can show you ways to make activities of daily living, such as cooking and showering, easier and provide advice on useful aids or equipment.
- Pharmacists can help you to understand your medicines (both prescription and over-the-counter medicines) and how to use them safely and correctly.
- Physiotherapists can advise you on exercise, posture and ways to relieve pain. They may also use treatments to keep your joints and muscles flexible.
- Podiatrists specialise in conditions affecting the feet. They can help you with footwear, nail care and orthosis (shoe inserts).
- Psychologists can teach you ways to cope with any pain and difficult emotions you feel as a result of your arthritis.
- Rheumatology Nurses are nurses with a specialist knowledge in arthritis. They can provide you with education, support and advice on your diagnosis and on-going management of your disease.
Where can I see allied health professionals and how much will it cost?
If your GP refers you to a health professional as part of a care plan, you may be able to have five sessions per year funded by Medicare. Ask your GP for more information.
- The public system: Most health professionals are available in the public health system (eg. community health centre or public hospital). There is often a waiting list, and you will usually need a referral from your GP. Their services are usually free or low cost.
- The private system: You can consult any of these health professionals at private clinics without a referral from your GP. The cost of a private consultation varies with the type of health professional and may cost from $30 to $100. These costs may be covered in part by private health insurance.
What is multidisciplinary care?
Multidisciplinary care involves a range of professionals from different disciplines working together to deliver comprehensive care that addresses as much of the patient’s needs as possible. A multidisciplinary team often includes healthcare professionals from medical, nursing, and allied health. Overtime the team may change to reflect the change in the patient’s condition. Multidisciplinary care has been associated with improvement in a patient’s functional ability, quality of life, psychological wellbeing, and patient satisfaction.
Planning your health care
If you have arthritis and need to see a multidisciplinary team of health professionals you can speak with your GP about a care plan for Chronic Disease Management. A care plan can help set out your health care needs, coordinate the care you need across multiple healthcare providers and support you in managing your condition. You may be eligible for Medicare rebates for certain allied health services. If a provider accepts the Medicare benefit as full payment of the service, there will be no out-of-pocket costs. If not, you will have to pay the difference between the fee charged and the Medicare rebate. Speak to your doctor for more information.
More information can be found in the Financial assistance resource and on the Australian Government’s website.
Your role in your health care
A patient’s involvement in the decision-making of their own health care can impact the quality and effectiveness of treatment and improve the management of their condition. Being involved in the development of your own management plans and treatment goals can help empower you to take greater control of the management of your condition, with the support of your healthcare team.
A first step in taking control of your arthritis is speaking with your doctor to understand your condition and develop your knowledge and skills to help manage your arthritis on a daily basis.
Some tips to help you prepare for your medical visits is outlined below:
- Think about, and write down, the questions you want to ask before your visit.
- Always take x-rays and test results related to your condition to the consultation.
- Consider taking a family member or friend with you as a second set of ears.
- Ask your doctor or health professional to explain any information that you did not understand.
- Feel free to ask questions, especially about the benefits, side effects and costs of treatments.
- Tell your doctor or health professional if you need time to think or to discuss something with family members.
- Write down any important information or instructions that you are given.
- Ask your doctor or health professional where you can learn more about your condition or treatment.
CONTACT YOUR LOCAL ARTHRITIS OFFICE FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT ARTHRITIS AND SUPPORT SERVICES.