A trusting relationship with your doctor requires feedback and at times uncomfortable self-disclosure. Have you been exercising as recommended? Are you taking herbal remedies or trying other alternatives your doctor might not condone? Does a weakness for Cheetos or Twinkies make it difficult to stick to the diet he or she recommended? And most important, what are your treatment goals?

“Good communication is the most important part of the doctor-patient relationship,” says Dr. Buchholz. “Both parties need to be able to clearly communicate their goals.”

Should you go so far as to tell your doctor you enjoy moonlit strolls on the beach? Perhaps, if keeping your arthritic knees in shape so you can continue those strolls is a priority.

Dixie Byers, 57, of Emmanus, IA, can attest to that. “My doctor and I have a very good rapport, but it wasn’t always that way,” she says. “In the beginning, he just didn’t stop to listen to what I was saying about how I felt or to answer questions about my medicines.”

But as time progressed, the relationship evolved and both parties changed. Byers, who has both RA and multiple sclerosis, learned to ask for what she needed. “I told him, ‘I need more information from you. I need to know what’s ahead for me.’” She also began conducting her own research on the Internet. She took the information to him and wrote down questions she wanted to ask him. Byers became more involved and more assertive. As a result, she found her doctor started to listen and work more with her.

“Most doctors appreciate a patient who is informed and involved,” says Krupat. Research shows patients with a chronic disease who take a role in their day-to-day care fare better than more passive patients. If being involved is important to you, let your doctor know and do your homework. If your doctor discourages you or is unresponsive, it may be time to shop for another doc.

There are many ways to find a new doctor. Word-of-mouth is an excellent resource. Ask around. Friends in your arthritis support group or exercise class are great sources. But remember, the best doctor is nearly always in the eyes of the beholder – one size does not fit all. Think for yourself and make your own informed decision.

You may also check with your insurance company when choosing a doctor. Increasingly insurers are compiling information about doctors other than just their educational background and office hours. At least one major managed health care plan, Kaiser Permanente, provides a statement concerning a doctor’s treatment philosophy or communication style, as well as a personality scale for doctors and patients, to help patients find a good match.