Developing a Healthcare Team - National Multiple Sclerosis Society

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Developing a Healthcare Team

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In this article

Overview

In addition to the neurologist, a comprehensive MS care team typically includes:

  • nurse
  • rehabilitation specialists — physiatrist, physical therapist, occupational therapist, speech/language pathologist
  • mental health specialists — psychologist and neuropsychologist, social worker
  • nutritionist
  • urologist — who specializes in treating urinary and kidney problems in men and women, and sexual function in men
  • primary care physician — pivotal role attending to overall health and wellness

Sometimes this team works within a single center; more often people with MS are referred (by their MS care provider or an MS Navigator) to specialists in the community with whom they build their own team for comprehensive, coordinated care.

Nurse

How a Nurse Fits in a Comprehensive MS Care Team

The nurse is a vital member of the MS care team, often acting as the glue that holds it all together. While the nurse's role will differ from one setting to another, primary nursing activities include educating people with MS and their families about the disease and supporting people's efforts to initiate and maintain a comprehensive treatment regimen. The nurse also helps people coordinate the care they need, maintain their overall health and wellness, and access the critical programs and services for which they are eligible.

Physiatrist


How a Physiatrist Fits in a Comprehensive MS Care Team

The physiatrist is a physician with expertise in physical medication and rehabilitation. As the leader of the rehabilitation team, the physiatrist designs a treatment plan that is designed to help a person with MS function at the highest level possible given whatever limitations he or she may have. The treatment involves exercise of various kinds, any assistive devices that may be needed to promote mobility and safety, and medications. The physiatrist’s goal is to ensure the highest possible quality of life for each individual.

Physical Therapist

How a Physical Therapist Fits in a Comprehensive MS Care Team

The physical therapist (PT) works to enhance function and mobility in everyday life. Using a treatment plan that takes into account a person’s abilities and limitations, home and work environments, and social support system, the PT develops an exercise program to improve strength, coordination and balance, teaches the appropriate use of mobility aids as needed, and recommends fatigue-management strategies. The PT has a critical role to play throughout the disease course, beginning at the time of diagnosis.

Occupational Therapist

How an Occupational Therapist Fits in a Comprehensive MS Care Team

The occupational therapist (OT) supports people’s efforts to remain productive, safe, and independent in their home and work environments. Using exercises for the upper body, adaptive equipment, home and work space modifications, and work simplification strategies, the OT helps people conserve energy, function effectively and enhance equality of life. OTs also offer tools and strategies to deal with low vision problems, cognitive issues and symptoms that interfere with driving.

Speech/Language Pathologist

How a Speech/Language Pathologist Fits in a Comprehensive MS Care Team

In addition to evaluating and treating problems with speech production or clarity that can interfere with effective communication, the speech/language pathologist (S/LP) evaluates swallowing problems and works with the nutritionist and physical therapist to ensure safe and healthful eating. And many S/LPs also evaluate changes in cognitive abilities and recommend compensatory strategies to help people function effectively at home and at work.

Psychologist

How a Psychologist Fits in a Comprehensive MS Care Team

The psychologist has a key role in helping people learn about MS and adapt to its presence in their life. In the privacy of the therapist’s office, people can deal with their feelings of loss and anxiety, learn effective coping strategies, and think through major decisions around treatment, disclosure and important relationships. Psychologists evaluate and treat mood changes that may occur, such as mood swings or depression, and many also diagnose and treat MS-related cognitive changes.

Neuropsychologist

How a Neuropsychologist Fits in a Comprehensive MS Care Team

The neuropsychologist specializes in the evaluation and treatment of cognitive changes, including problems with memory, attention and problem-solving. The neuropsychologist evaluates cognition using a battery of tests designed to identify the person’s abilities and limitations, and uses that information to teach compensatory strategies that optimize the person’s ability to carry out activities at home and at work. Information from the evaluation can also be used to support disability applications if and when the need arises.

Social Worker

How a Social Worker Fits in a Comprehensive MS Care Team

The social worker helps people with MS and their family members to connect to essential community resources related to employment, home modifications, disability applications, long-term care or any other services they might need. In many settings the social worker also provides counseling services, helping people navigate their way through treatment decisions and other challenges they encounter over the course of the disease. The social worker may also serve as a liaison with other members of the healthcare team

Nutritionist

How a Nutritionist Fits in a Comprehensive MS Care Team

The nutritionist or dietician provides information about the role of diet in managing MS symptoms and guidance about how to plan and prepare healthy, enjoyable meals. Although there is no particular food or dietary supplement that can control or cure MS, a balanced, high-fiber, low-fat diet can promote wellness, reduce fatigue and constipation, and help with weight management issues. The nutritionist also works with the rehabilitation specialists to help people who develop swallowing difficulties.

Primary Care Physician

How a Primary Care Physician Fits in a Comprehensive MS Care Team

The primary care physician is an essential adjunct to the MS care team. While the specialists are focusing on the person’s MS, the primary care doctor — generally a family physician or internist — is monitoring the overall health and wellness of the person with MS and his or her family members. In addition to screening for common problems such as high blood pressure or diabetes — which can easily be overshadowed by the symptoms of MS — the primary care physician also helps to coordinate the care provided by all of the specialists.

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