Exclusive Content

Seven Reasons to Visit an MS Center

By Gay Falkowski

Whether you are a newly diagnosed person with MS or someone searching for more specialized treatment of your MS, an MS Center can be a valuable resource in meeting your needs. Since its inception in 1986, the Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers (CMSC) has grown rapidly. There are now more than 200 member centers in the United States, Canada, and Europe representing more than 4,000 health care professionals worldwide who provide care for more than 150,000 individuals with MS. To find the nearest MS center to you, visit the CMSC directory. When you find one, here are seven good reasons to visit:

1) To access MS specialists. Generally, neurologists at MS centers specialize primarily in the treatment of MS, while other neurologists treat all neurological diseases and disorders. The MS specialists have seen many more patients with MS and a much broader variety of symptoms. They have more experience with the many options for disease-modifying therapies and medications to treat the multitude of MS symptoms. Their expertise is especially valuable in getting an accurate diagnosis, which can be a difficult process. Other diseases have similar warning signs, and early MS symptoms can be mild, nonspecific and sporadic. To date, there is no definitive single laboratory test to confirm MS, thus a confirmed diagnosis can only be made through a careful medical history, a detailed neurological examination, MRI imaging, and often a test of spinal fluid and many blood tests to exclude other possible causes of the neurological symptoms.

2) To receive coordinated care with a team approach. Today's MS management requires more than just a neurologist. At an MS center, you will find a multidisciplinary team of MS experts all in one location to provide a full spectrum of services tailored to your unique medical and emotional needs. Working together, this team can coordinate your care for optimum results. Typically, in addition to your neurologist, your team consists of:

* A nurse, who educates about MS, supports the treatment regimen, and coordinates care.
* A physiatrist, a doctor who designs a treatment plan to help you maintain as much function as possible.
* A physical therapist, who develops an exercise program to improve your strength, balance, and coordination.
* A social worker, who helps you connect to community resources such as disability applications.
* An occupational therapist, who supports your independence and productivity at home and at work, using a variety of tools and strategies.
* A nutritionist or dietitian, who provides guidance about preparing healthy, enjoyable meals.
* A speech language pathologist, who evaluates and treats any problems with speech or communication and evaluates swallowing or cognitive problems.
* A mental health professional, who helps you adapt to and cope with your changing health, as well as diagnose and treat MS-related cognitive changes.

(3) To participate in clinical trials. Many MS Centers are also home to rigorous research programs that conduct clinical trials and/or collect data through registries. Participating in a clinical trial could provide you with access to groundbreaking therapies not yet widely available. In most cases, the research team covers the cost of the study drug and any medical care performed to fulfill the study goals. However, there is no guarantee that you will be able to participate just because you a patient at the MS center. Every trial has a list of “inclusion factors.” These factors are characteristics of a person or their illness that the researchers use to decide who gets to participate. Registries tend to be more inclusive, and offer you a way to contribute to the growing body of knowledge about MS by sharing information about your MS.

(4) To learn more about MS and general wellness. In making important decisions about your healthcare, you benefit from having the most current and reliable information about multiple sclerosis available. Most MS centers offer ongoing educational programs on a wide range of topics related to disease treatment, lifestyle modifications, and the latest research. These programs are led by center staff or guest speakers with a particular expertise related to MS. In addition to seminars and workshops, information is made available through online articles and podcasts located on the MS centers' websites. Some MS centers offer free classes in gentle yoga, exercise tailored for people with MS, relaxation and stress reduction. These classes are an excellent way to have fun and increase flexibility and wellbeing.

5. To get support. MS centers are a common meeting location for support groups. Make new friends while reaping the following benefits:
  • Learning new information and strategies for confronting problems,
  • Finding reassurance and support from others with similar life experiences,
  • Having the opportunity to be helpful to others,
  • Feeling empowered in coping with challenges, and
  • Developing a connection to a community and personal identification with a social group.
6. To receive assistance with health insurance and social security disability insurance (SSDI) issues. In dealing with insurance issues, patients are encouraged to be their own advocates. Sometimes a healthcare provider and patient will agree to pursue a particular medication, evaluation, or adaptive aide, but the insurance company denies the request. You do have a right to appeal the decision, and though it is your responsibility to do so, healthcare providers who specialize in MS can offer the best advice and evidence to help you prove your case. Some MS centers also offer guidance for those applying for SSDI. Understanding the criteria and application process can improve your chances of getting approval the first time around.

7. To receive infusions in the same location where you receive the rest of your MS care. Most MS centers have infusion suites with amenities like personal TV screens and comfortable furniture to keep you relaxed and entertained while you receive your intravenous medication. Coordinating your infusions with other MS healthcare appointments saves time and energy.