You’ve Been Referred… Again

If you have a condition, like arthritis, you may encounter many doctors along your journey. Here’s a quick look at why this happens and who you may meet. 

Why do doctors do referrals?

Did you know over 100 different types of arthritis exist?1 It's no surprise then that living with arthritis means you may end up working with a number of medical professionals from a range of disciplines and specialties. Finding the right team of providers is important for addressing your unique needs and improving your outcomes. A referral is simply an order from your physician to see a specialist in your area of need.

Let's take a look at some professionals you may encounter on your journey, and how to manage the understandable stress of working with multiple providers.

What type of doctor treats arthritis?

Healthcare providers who frequently care for people with arthritis include:

Primary care physician

Your general provider is typically your primary, and first, source of support. He or she manages your overall well-being and refers you to other specialists as needed.

Physical therapist or occupational therapist

Physical therapists and occupational therapists use therapeutic exercise, manual techniques, and stretching to help minimize your arthritis pain, improve your strength, range of motion, and balance, increase your activity tolerance, and improve your ability to perform daily tasks. Physical therapists are also closely involved in post-operative recovery following joint replacement surgery.


A rheumatologist is a medical doctor who specializes in musculoskeletal and autoimmune conditions. They have advanced training and expertise in the diagnosis and management of arthritis.


A physiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation. They can also prescribe medications, provide joint injections, or refer you to other specialists.


A psychologist is a licensed mental health provider who helps people with arthritis manage their mood, improve their stress management, as well as develop coping skills.


A dietitian is a board-certified food and nutrition expert who helps people with arthritis make sustainable dietary modifications that can ease symptoms and improve joint and overall health.

Orthopedic surgeon

An orthopedic surgeon diagnoses and treats musculoskeletal conditions affecting the bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. They perform surgical procedures like joint replacements, but only after less invasive treatments like medication and exercise fail to help.

3 Ways to manage your medical team

Getting support from your medical team is great, but it can be hard to juggle all the different providers! Here are 3 quick ideas to help:

  • Keep your medical records organized. Ask for copies and keep them in a safe place, along with an ongoing list of questions and concerns you have for your medical team.
  • Be mindful of your schedule. Do you prefer to have multiple medical appointments on one day or spread them out? Consider this when scheduling your various visits and follow-ups.
  • Lean on your general provider. Think of your primary care physician as your "point person" who oversees your plan of care and ensures your medical team is collaborating appropriately. Never hesitate to ask for guidance.
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  1. (2019, Feb 20). Arthritis Types. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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