What is a Rheumatologist?        Download brochure

Many people who are referred to see a rheumatologist for the first time may not know much about this medical specialty. Here we briefly explain what the specialty of rheumatology involves, what rheumatologists do, and what to expect when you see a rheumatologist.

A rheumatologist is a specialist physician who has expertise in diagnosing and treating arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions and autoimmune diseases. 

Arthritis mainly affects the joints while other musculoskeletal conditions can also affect the joints, bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments. Autoimmune diseases also commonly affect the musculoskeletal system but many of the conditions rheumatologists treat may affect the rest of the body, including eyes, skin, internal organs and the nervous system. 

Rheumatologists are experts in treating the many different types of arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions including:

They also diagnose and treat autoimmune diseases including:

Some rheumatologists will also have interests or specific experience in certain areas.  In particular there are also paediatric rheumatologists who see patients younger than 18 years of age. Conditions in children and adolescents are often quite different from adult conditions and require particular expertise.

For a more extensive list please see the Arthritis Australia website.

What will happen when I see the rheumatologist?

The Diagnosis

Rheumatologists in Australia undertake at least six years of specialist training after completing their medical degree and hospital internship. This includes physician training and specialist training in rheumatology. Your rheumatologist is specially trained to do the detective work necessary to discover the cause of your symptoms. He or she will usually ask you to explain the history of the problem and will undertake a physical examination. Additional investigations such as blood tests, X-rays and scans may also be needed.

Information and Advice

Once a diagnosis is made, your rheumatologist will explain the nature of your illness and what you might expect in the future. This is an important step, particularly for illnesses that might affect you over a long period.

Treatment

Your rheumatologist is an expert in the comprehensive and holistic management of the whole person. With an accurate diagnosis and a shared understanding of your illness, you and your rheumatologist can work together to design a treatment program aimed at managing pain, reducing inflammation and ensuring your quality of life.

Ongoing Management

Depending on the nature of your illness, you may need to see your rheumatologist regularly for ongoing management. Some specialised medications can only be prescribed by a rheumatologist. Alternatively you may be treated by your GP, with the rheumatologist on hand for specialist advice.

So how will my condition be treated?

As your rheumatologist will explain, there are a number of treatment options available including:

He or she will advise you on the different options and what may be best for you. This will depend on the exact nature of your illness, your circumstances and preferences, and any other individual needs or problems. It is important that you share your concerns with your rheumatologist so that together you can agree on the best approach for you.

In treating and managing your illness, your rheumatologist will work closely with your General Practitioner, to ensure that you receive the best possible care. Other skilled professionals may also share in your care:

Advice for your first visit with a Rheumatologist

You will need a referral from your General Practitioner to make an appointment with a rheumatologist (whether in private practice or public hospital outpatient clinic). Please bring a copy of the referral, a health summary, your list of medications, your family history (including information about relatives with rheumatologic/autoimmune conditions), and previous relevant tests and X-rays or other imaging tests if available. A supportive friend or relative would be welcome, as many issues may be discussed.

Costs

In Australia, if you have a Medicare card, costs to see a rheumatologist are subsidised but often there is a gap in private practice and this differs in different areas. Please ring the practice directly for costs. If there are concerns regarding out of pocket costs, most large public hospitals have rheumatology clinics that are free of charge to Medicare card holders.