As you manage your osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or any of the numerous arthritis-related conditions, some of your most valuable relationships will be with members of your health care team. Together, you’ll monitor the progress of your disease and day-to-day function, and find the treatment plan that works best for you.

Finding the right doctor is key to creating a successful doctor/patient relationship and getting optimal care. Discard the old idea of blindly following doctor’s orders without discussion or question. You can – and should – take the lead role in your care. You’ll need to find someone who not only meets high standards of medical knowledge and skill, but who also works well with your personality. Your relationship with your doctor should be a trusting partnership with open communication.

The doctor’s philosophy of practice should mesh with your own expectations and style. Ask how involved patients are in decisions, the level of aggressiveness in treatment if you have an inflammatory or autoimmune disease, and how much attention is given to your overall quality of life and health.

Let's meet the many different types of health care professionals who will help you:

Primary care practitioner. For most people, even those with arthritis or related conditions, the main medical professional they see is their primary care doctor. Most likely, he will first diagnose your condition but may refer you to a specialist for evaluation and potential diagnosis. From there, he will continue to handle most of your care. Think of it this way: If you’re the general manager of the team, your primary-care doctor is the head coach. His practice may include other generalists, such as physician assistants, registered nurses (most likely) or even nurse practitioners.

In some cases, when you need occasional or ongoing specialized medical care – for monitoring, resolving a problem or a complication, or for certain treatments – you may see or continue to see other health professionals. These specialists are an ongoing part of your team.

Rheumatologist. This physician is a specialist with advanced training in arthritis and related musculoskeletal conditions. Your primary care doctor may consult a rheumatologist or refer you to one if she’s uncertain what type of arthritis you have or if you need ongoing specialty evaluation and treatment. The rheumatologist and your primary care doctor should update each other regularly, so they each have a complete picture of your current health.

Orthopedic surgeon. Also known as an orthopedist, this doctor specializes in musculoskeletal issues, including arthritis (particularly osteoarthritis) and injuries. An orthopedic surgeon is trained to perform surgery on joints, bones, muscles and other parts of the musculoskeletal system, so you’re likely to see one if your joints are damaged and you need a surgical procedure, such as a joint replacement. Orthopedic surgeons, or orthopedists, also focus on diagnosis, treatment and management of musculoskeletal problems. In fact, some orthopedists do so exclusively, choosing not to perform surgery in their practices.