Finding a Healthcare Provider

Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) patients may have several doctors and other health care professionals on their health care team to help manage the disease and its effects on quality of life. Health care professionals may be generalists or specialists. Generalists are those who consider the patient as a whole, while specialists are focused on one particular system or area. There is evidence to support that specialists have the edge when it comes to current knowledge in their area of expertise. Regardless, depending on the patients’ needs, both generalists and specialists can play an important role.1


Rheumatologists are internists who have received additional training in the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal disease and systemic autoimmune conditions, such as PsA. Rheumatologists treat joint disease but do not perform surgeries, and many rheumatologists also conduct research to find a cause of and better treatment for rheumatic disease. Many rheumatologists work in outpatient clinics. As a specialist, some require a referral from another physician for an appointment to be made.2


Dermatologists specialize in the treatment of the skin, hair, nails and mucous membranes (the lining inside the mouth, nose, and eyelids). They have medical degrees and have received additional training in the field of dermatology. Dermatologists diagnose and treat thousands of different diseases, including psoriasis. Because the majority of people with PsA first develop psoriasis, a dermatologist may be the first doctor to suspect PsA. Generally, a rheumatologist diagnoses PsA.3,4

Primary care physician

A primary care physician (PCP) is generally the one who coordinates all of the patient’s care. PCPs may be family medicine physicians, internal medicine physicians, or pediatricians. The PCP is often the first point of contact for the patient and provides comprehensive care for chronic, preventive and acute conditions. They regularly handle vaccinations, address urgent needs such as respiratory infections, and handle routine screening tests. For patients with chronic conditions like PsA, having a PCP instead of utilizing an urgent care facility for acute needs means that the patient’s entire history and background will be taken into consideration.5

Internal medicine doctor

Internal medicine physicians apply scientific knowledge and clinical expertise to the diagnosis, treatment, and compassionate care of adults across the spectrum from health to complex illness. Also known as internists, these doctors have training in learning how to prevent, diagnose, and treat diseases that affect adults, including PsA. They may act as primary care physicians, coordinating a patient’s care with other specialists.6

Orthopedic surgeon

Orthopedics is the medical specialty that focuses on injuries and diseases of the body’s musculoskeletal system, including the bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles, and nerves that allow movement. Orthopedic surgeons diagnose and treat problems of the musculoskeletal system, and some focus on certain areas, such as the foot and ankle, spine, hip, or knee. Although some musculoskeletal conditions are treated without surgery, an orthopedic surgeon performs a number of surgeries, including arthroscopy (using equipment to visualize, diagnose and treat problems inside a joint), fusion (bones are fused together), and joint replacement. People with PsA who experience significant joint damage may be referred to an orthopedic surgeon for joint surgery.7,8

Occupational and physical therapist

Patients with PsA are often referred to physical or occupational therapists to help maintain joint function.8

Physical therapists are licensed health care professionals who help patients reduce pain and improve or restore mobility. They help patients prevent or manage their condition using treatment techniques that promote the ability to move, return function, and prevent disability.9

Occupational therapists are also licensed health care professionals. They work with people who need specialized assistance due to physical, developmental, social, or emotional problems. Occupational therapists often work with people with PsA and other illnesses or disabilities to help them do everyday tasks that are important to them, such as eating, dressing, and work activities. They may make changes to the environment, the task, or the person’s skills needed for the task. Occupational therapists also have the knowledge and training to work with people with mental illness or emotional problems, such as depression or stress.10

Mental health counselor/therapist

People with PsA are twice as likely to be depressed as those with psoriasis alone, and they are also more likely to have clinical depression and anxiety. Depression and anxiety in individuals who PsA are highly associated with unemployment, severe disease, disability, pain, and fatigue.11

Many people with PsA benefit from seeing a mental health counselor or therapist. Counselors and therapists can teach coping skills to help people with PsA deal with the psychosocial and emotional aspects of living with a chronic, painful disease.

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Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: October 2016.