Waiting for a Rheumatologist
January 14, 2020 5:32 AM   Subscribe

Is eight weeks too long to wait for a rheumatologist as a new patient? I can't even get an appointment, much less a diagnosis.

I was referred to a rheumatology clinic in my network and called them to get an appointment. They said they would look at my records and call me back in two weeks. They waited five weeks and asked me to go in for another test, which I did the next day. I got the results within three days, but after two more weeks, I still had no word from the office. Last week I was told the doctor finally saw my results on Tuesday (ten days after I could see them online.) Now after almost another week, I still don't have an appointment or even confirmation that they will accept me as a patient.

I read that there is a shortage of rheumatologists (I'm in Minnesota) but I can see 6-8 listed on the clinic's website. If this type of wait is normal, I will just wait it out - but I see there are other clinics in my network and will go to one of them if this is abnormal.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (12 answers total)
I was having some issues with the lack of responsiveness of my rheumatologist's office so I looked into getting an appointment at another hospital system. They had 6-8 rheumatologists listed on their website as well, and when I called to inquire about an appointment, the first openings were indeed about two months out. Luckily, the situation with my rheumatologist improved, and I didn't need to switch.

In your case, it's weird that you can't just book an appointment. When I inquired about the other rheumatologists, they would have booked me without any tests, details of my case, etc.
posted by Leontine at 6:24 AM on January 14, 2020

Not in Minnesota but I have had luck getting appointments in similar situations in other states and in other countries by making friends with the receptionist/nurse/appointment person, whomever. I call, explain my plight, and ask if I can be put on the cancellation list so I can get in earlier if another patient can't come to an appointment. I also usually call once a week (not more often) to touch base. I am always polite and friendly. This is not a guarantee but it might help, especially if you stress that your situation is painful (or difficult or stressful or whatever, as long as it is true) and you really need that person to help you get seen as soon as possible. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 6:32 AM on January 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

there is a shortage of rheumatologists

At least in the MidSouth that is exactly the current situation. Six or eight rheumatologists {generalization incoming} equates to a single group with a few solo offices. If one contrasts that to ortho, ENT, neuro, et al in a metro area {more generalization} one would expect to see multiple groups with a few solo offices.

Groups = a practice with multiple MDs, nurse practitioners, and diagnostic facilities
Solo = a practice with a single MD, possible an NP, no diagnostics
posted by iStranger at 6:32 AM on January 14, 2020

There's a shortage of most specialties these days, and the wait times can be brutal.

Some clinics offer limited walk-in hours, it may be worth calling around to see if any in your area do.
posted by matrixclown at 7:05 AM on January 14, 2020

My uncle had to wait three months to see one in Tennessee, and he was in the middle of a debilitating flare up.
posted by kimdog at 7:11 AM on January 14, 2020

It's weird to me that they ordered a test without having seen you as a patient. Eight weeks is a long time to not have an appointment scheduled from a referral. The longest I've waited is three weeks and I found that unusually long. When scheduling that appointment, the earliest available new patient consultation was five weeks out for a nurse practitioner or six months out for the actual doctor I was referred to.

I have a new patient appointment this May that was scheduled last October.

I would call them to ask about getting an appointment, instead of waiting for them to call you, but be prepared for an additional wait from there.
posted by Ruki at 7:57 AM on January 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Are you new to seeing a rheumatologist altogether or just new to this particular rheumatologist? I was also going to have a two month wait to see a new rheumatologist (I needed a new one because I had been under care of another who had left the area - I never bothered replacing him until previous problem flared again). I didn't need a referral so I had just contacted the office myself. When I found out the wait period, I contacted my primary doctor, gave them the story and asked if they would be able to get me a faster appointment.

Even if you are a totally new patient, you might try contacting your primary care to make an appointment, and give them the new test results to see if that has an influence.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 10:12 AM on January 14, 2020

Can confirm similar in Southern California. Now that he's in the system, my husband can get in on short notice if something weird happens, but it took about 6 weeks to get in the first time (with lab results and referral from GP) and his checkups are scheduled 6 months out.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:25 AM on January 14, 2020

Its over a year wait here off the beaten track. 8 weeks is probably below the US average, sadly.
posted by fshgrl at 12:11 PM on January 14, 2020

I waited longer than that, and I already had a pediatric diagnosis since I was ten years old. In the U.S. waits for specialists are incredibly long, even if your problem is acute.

I was an established patient at one of the two local podiatrists, and I still was given a six-month wait for a problem that ended up putting me in the hospital for three weeks and months of outpatient IV therapy.

(And this is probably a controversial thing to say, but I've also noticed a correlation between waits for an appointment and both the quality of my insurance coverage at the time and which doctor happened to be referring me.)
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:17 PM on January 14, 2020

Good luck, anon. One more data point. Family member with excellent insurance needed to move from long term rheumatologist to new one. In system and referral near major hospitals. Initially quoted wait time six months, but got in after 2-3. The upside, was that the new doc was worth the wait.
posted by Gotanda at 2:36 PM on January 14, 2020

In the U.S. waits for specialists are incredibly long, even if your problem is acute.

As an aside, from someone in the biz, it depends on the speciality. Currently, there are usually more doctors in most areas representing those specialities with procedures - which means more income - like GI, surgical specialists like Ortho, Ophthalmology, interventional cardiology, ENT, etc or those with good lifestyle - no call or hospital responsibility - like Dermatology or Plastic Surgery. Thus, waits are shorter and we can hardly wait to get you into our office or surgery center.

Other specialities like Rheumatology, Nephrology, (increasingly) Pulmonary and Critical Care, ID, etc, without money-making procedures or with significant hospital workloads are under-subscribed and have a thinner workforce in most communities. These specialists train for an additional 3 years or more, but usually make about the same income as general internists or FPs while caring for significantly more complex problems.

It’s no mystery; financial incentives do affect behavior.
posted by sudogeek at 6:54 PM on January 15, 2020

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