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The 12 Things You Must Look For In An Arthritis Expert

Dec 27, 2007
Finding the right arthritis specialist is extremely important since arthritis not only can cripple you but it also can significantly shorten lifespan.

I give a lot of talks and the questions I hear a lot are: "I went to an arthritis specialist and they weren't anything special" or "How do I find a good specialist?"

Let's make a distinction here... there's a big difference between an arthritis specialist and an arthritis expert. To get the best results you want an expert!

A specialist is just somebody who passed the board exam. An expert is someone who not only passed the board exam but who has also devoted his or her life to becoming the best in their field. They publish articles, they do research, they are focused on top-notch patient care, and they make it their life's work to do their best to help people who have arthritis.

And when it comes to your health, you better find someone who is tops! Otherwise you're wasting your time and money.

1. Board certification. Board certification is no guarantee. However, if a doctor isn't board certified that should send up a red flag.

2. You want someone who has been in practice at least 20 years. Medicine is like most skills...the more experience a specialist has the better. In 2001, medical errors accounted for 97,000 deaths in the United States and there's a direct correlation between lack of experience and medical errors.

3. Look for these initials after the MD...

a.F.A.C.P. This stands for Fellow of the American College of Physicians. This means the doctor has academic credentials--they've published papers and are respected as an authority.

b.F.A.C.R. This stands for Fellow of the American College of Rheumatology. This means that they are at least board eligible or board certified.

If they don't have FACP as well as FACR, they're not an expert.

4. Arthroscopy is an important skill. It's the ability to look inside the joint with a small telescope and diagnosis and treat. Ask if the arthritis specialist is a member of the Arthroscopy Association of North America? These are the most skilled arthroscopists in the world.

5. Do they have in-house laboratory, x-ray and bone density equipment? If they do, ask if their lab is high complexity and certified by the state as a reference lab.

6. Do they have diagnostic ultrasound? This is a new technology for visualizing joint disease. It is used to detect evidence of early inflammation and also to follow the effects of medications in slowing the disease process. The use of diagnostic ultrasound allows the physician to perform joint injections with 100% accuracy. Diagnostic ultrasound is also much less expensive than magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

7. They should have completed at least 100 clinical research studies. Physicians who have extensive clinical research experience are much more attuned to the latest therapies than those specialists who don't perform clinical research.

8. A specialist should have published at least 50 papers in the medical literature.

9. How many Google citations does the expert have? Nowadays, more and more people are getting their information from the Internet. The mega search engine, Google, probably has the best ability to search for experts. The number of citations a doctor has tells you how much he or she has invested in time and effort to help with patient education and further their specialty. It stands to reason, the more they write the more knowledge and expertise they possess. To see how many citations they have, just go to Google, put in the expert's name in quotes, like this, "nathan wei" and then the word "arthritis", so it looks like this...

"nathan wei" arthritis.

If you get fewer than 500 citations, that person is not an expert. Remember, not all specialists are experts. It's like any profession. There are good ones, there are bad ones, and there are truly great ones. In fact, there are doctors who are pretty terrible. That's right. They're terrible. Why? Because they don't know their specialty and they don't have good patient skills. Do you really want to be stuck with a lemon? If you have arthritis, a potentially life-changing disease, don't you think it's best to see an expert?

10.What is their staff like? Even a great physician needs a great support staff.

11.Do you get the feeling they care? A good practice will make you feel like family.

12.Are they part of your insurance plan? This is a trick question. The very best experts don't let their decisions get made by the insurance company. Your health is the most important possession you have. Don't you want a physician who is going to be working for you and not for the insurance company? Medical decisions affecting your health should be made with your well-being - not the insurance company's bottom dollar-- in mind! Most real experts divest themselves of insurance companies because they do not want their judgment clouded by pressure from insurance companies and they have the reputation that allows them to do that.

If you found this information valuable and would like to know more, you can get a copy of our free Consumer Awareness guide. Contact Michelle at aocmd@aocm.org
About the Author
Nathan Wei, MD FACP FACR is a rheumatologist and Director of the Arthritis and Osteoporosis Center of Maryland. He is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. For more info: Arthritis Treatment
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