Working with Your MS Healthcare Team
Who is included in an MS healthcare team?
Managing MS typically involves a multi-disciplinary approach ─ which means that a team of healthcare specialists help people manage different aspects of the disease. This team can include, but is not limited to:
General practitioner (GP)
A GP or family doctor who provides primary care and referrals to specialists, such as a neurologist. It’s important for people living with chronic conditions not to assume all health problems are related to MS.
Physicians who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of conditions related to the nervous system (central nervous system and peripheral nervous system). Some neurologists specialize in MS and see people at an MS clinic, while others may be community neurologists, who practice general neurology and see a wide array of neurological conditions.
Registered nurses who have further specialized in the management and treatment of multiple sclerosis. MS nurses will assist people with education about treatment options, treatment administration, and help manage symptoms and potential drug side effects.
Will evaluate a person’s movement and functioning, including strength, mobility, balance, posture, fatigue, and pain management. PTs can help people living with MS meet the physical challenges and demands of their lives.
Occupational therapist (OT)
Will help people work on the everyday skills that are needed to function as independently as possible at home and at work. They target upper-body strength, mobility, and coordination and can help people use assistive technologies to increase ease of access and independence. OTs offer ways to simplify work or manage fatigue and stress.
Psychologist, psychiatrist and neuropsychiatrist
May be helpful if people experience cognitive or mood changes. Having to deal with MS can cause depression for some, but the disease process itself can also play a role. It is important to know that while depression is very common in people with MS, it is also very treatable through medications and psychological therapy.
Speech and language therapist
Will help work on speech or swallowing problems that result from impaired muscle control. Sometimes they are also involved in the evaluation and management of cognitive dysfunction, especially when it affects communication.
Will assess social needs and can help refer people to resources about income maintenance, insurance, housing, long-term care options, etc.
A physician who specializes in the study and treatment of the urinary system. Bladder (and bowel) issues in MS are wide-ranging—and common. About 70 to 90 per cent of people with MS experience issues with elimination at some point in their disease course.
Can help to educate people on how to administer drugs as prescribed by their doctor, highlight potential side effects and how to minimize them, and drug interactions.
Other health care professionals that may be part of a person’s MS healthcare team may include a nutritionist or dietician, fitness professional, pain clinic, ophthalmologist, physiatrist, and gynecologist.
How to make the most of your MS healthcare appointments
Preparing in advance for any appointment will allow you and your healthcare professional to make the most of your time together and ensure that you maximize the care that you are receiving. Here are some helpful tips to make the most out of your appointments:
- Keep a health and lifestyle diary so that you can refresh your memory when preparing for your appointments.
- Think about what you want to accomplish during your upcoming visit.
- Make a list of important questions or concerns you would like to discuss.
- Tell your doctor about any changes in symptoms (see the symptom tracking graph).
- Review which medications/supplements you are taking and when/how you are taking them (see the prescription, non-prescription and supplement tracking graph).
- Mention any problems or questions you have about your medications/supplements.
- Let your doctor know if you have seen any other healthcare professionals recently that s/he may not know about.
- Consider bringing a friend or family member to your appointment for support and to help keep track of anything discussed.
Because MS symptoms can be so diverse, people tend to assume that any symptom is related to their MS. But this is not always the case. Be sure to see your doctor about symptoms that are troubling you. Your doctor or community pharmacist is likely a very good source of information, but sometimes s/he may not be as knowledgeable about MS as you are. Help your doctor to help you by sharing new information. For instance, sometimes people with MS will bring their doctor information about symptom medications that their doctor may not be aware of.