The rheumatology clinic - What to expect

What is a Rheumatologist?

A rheumatologist is a doctor who specialises in diagnosing and treating arthritis and other conditions of the muscles, joints and bones.

What happens when I get to the Rheumatology outpatients clinic?

The first person you will meet will be the receptionist or clinic clerk. He or she will check your details. You may be weighed and height measured. You will then meet with the Rheumatologist. This often is, but may not be, the consultant. You could be seen by a specialist trainee doctor for example. Remember he or she is already a very experienced doctor who is being supervised by the consultant.

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and other important information and will examine you. This may involve a gen-eral physical examination as well as an examination of your joints and back. It is helpful if you wear loose clothing, which allows a complete examination without the need to undress fully. You can ask for a nurse/chaperone to be present during the examination which usually takes no more than five or ten minutes.

The doctor will then review any tests you may have had. The meeting should end with the doctor telling you what he/she thinks might be wrong with you, explaining any further tests required and what treatment is available. You should be giv-en an opportunity to ask questions. Ask for further explanation if there is anything you have not understood. Some people find it helpful to write down a list of questions they would like answered before their appointment.

Do I need to bring anything with me to clinic?

Please do bring a list of any medicines you are taking. A copy of your prescription or the medicines themselves would be ideal.

May I bring a relative or friend with me?

Of course, it is often helpful to have somebody for “moral support” who can also help you remember what was said during the consultation. Space in clinic rooms can be limited and it is best to bring one relative or friend (not the whole family!). Sometimes the doctor may enquire about intimate personal details of your past medical history which you may prefer to keep private. Part of the meeting may take place between you and the doctor only.

Will there be students present?

There may be one or more medical students in the clinic as observers. You should be asked beforehand whether or not you are happy to have students present during your consultation. You can say no and this will have no impact on your care.

What tests am I likely to have?

That depends on what the doctor thinks the problem might be. Not everyone needs tests. However you may need to have blood and urine tests. You may have x-rays or an ultrasound of your joints. Once you have had your tests done you will be advised on whether further tests are needed at other appointments (eg Physiotherapy or MRI scan).

Will I be seen by anyone other than the doctor?

This depends on what diagnosis you have. Rheumatologists work within a team (see BSR Patient Information on ‘The Rheumatology Multidisciplinary Team’). For some types of arthritis it is helpful to get the advice of a number of different Rheumatology team members. It is very likely that you will meet other members of the team during your next visits to the clinic.