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12 Things to Look for When Choosing A GI to Treat Your IBD

Your GI is extremely important if you have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Our doctors are the people (we hope) we are going to form a partnership with in managing our illness. You and them together, working as a team, trying to get your health under control. That’s how it should be. Unfortunately that isn’t always the case. If you do not feel like you are getting the best care possible and want to switch to a different gastroenterologist I think that should be more than acceptable but our circumstances in life may hinder this. Insurance (or lack of), location, and even stupid rules your health system has about switching doctors can stand between you and the doctor of your dreams. But if you do have a say and you are unhappy with your doctor you should seek out someone else. Don’t waste time hoping things will get better. It’s your health on the line; not theirs. 

12 Things to Look for When Choosing A GI to Treat Your IBD

1: Are They an IBD Specialist?

illustration of a male doctor in a white coat

Does your GI specialize in IBD or do they treat a wide range of digestive diseases and disorders? Most of my life I had GI’s who were not IBD specialists and their knowledge of treating Inflammatory Bowel Disease was typically 10-20 years behind the way it was being treated at the current time. It also wasn’t on par with an IBD specialist in any other way. Look for a GI that specializes in IBD if you have one in your area. If you can’t find an IBD specialist look for a GI who has plenty of experience caring for Crohn’s and colitis patients. Chances are the IBD specialist chose to specialize in treating inflammatory bowel disease because they have a strong interest in it. They also have had focused training in the treatment of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis compared to a GI that does not specialize.

2: Does the Hospital They Work in Have an IBD Center?

This sort of goes along with what I just talked about with a specialist. IBD centers are dedicated to the diagnosis, monitoring, and treatment of patients with inflammatory bowel disease. These centers have a whole team devoted to IBD care and contribute to important research and patient education. I like having a GI that works out of a hospital that has an IBD center. Some hospitals now have entire floors dedicated to patients with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis who are inpatient. IBD centers have nurses and other clinicians who have special training in the care of patients who have inflammatory bowel disease. Staying in a hospital with an IBD center can be such a blessing when it comes to your care.

3: Is the Doctor Available?

When you see them do you feel too rushed and like they are ready to run out the door because they are waiting to get to the next patient? Do you feel like you have their full attention? Having a doctor who comes off as available makes it easier for patients to feel relaxed about disclosing everything going on with their health. A lot of patients do not like to feel like they are inconveniencing their doctors and will not open up if the doctor does not seem available. Do you have to go on a wild goose chase to contact your doctor? Is it hard to reach them and do they respond in a timely manner? Though doctors are very busy people it is important that they, or someone from their team, get back to you promptly when you need help. 

4: How do They Communicate With You?

Bedside manner is important. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from friends or followers that their doctor said something that was so uncaring or insulting that they didn’t even go back to the doctor for a long time which only made their IBD worse. It is very important that you have a skilled doctor but if they don’t treat you in a kind and compassionate way it makes things much more difficult. I’ve had brilliant doctors who are great at what they do but they were also assholes and therefore none of that mattered to me. I was done. Patients are more likely to open up to a doctor they trust and less likely to talk if they don’t feel like their doctor cares for them. I also like a doctor who doesn’t talk down to me or who treats me like I don’t know a thing about IBD. I’m a smart patient and I like when my doctor takes the time to learn that and talks to me about my health on my level otherwise it’s belittling. 

Speech bubble with a sad face in it

5: Do They Listen to You?

Do you feel like your input matters? Is the conversation back and forth or is it just your doctor talking at you while you nod your head? Do you feel like he/she is actually listening to how you are feeling and taking steps to make you feel better? How a GI responds to you after you have told them something says a lot. If you just explained that you are having a lot of symptoms and are feeling poorly and they don’t want to figure that out is not acceptable. They can check your CRP, do a fecal calprotectin test, look into c-diff and other infections, refer you to an RD, check for bacterial overgrowth, and so much more. It is important for your GI to listen to the way you are feeling and take initiative to improve your quality of life. Even if nothing is going on it helps a patient feel like their doctor believes them and takes them seriously when they listen and act on it.

6: Do They Use MyChart or Something Similar?

I love MyChart. I can message my medical team, view my test results, schedule appointments, and refill prescriptions. I’ve even sent my GI pictures of abscesses. Lucky her! It is much easier as a patient to use a system like MyChart vs having to make phone calls for all of these things. 

7: Are They Qualified?

Of course this is an obvious requirement but an important one. What kind of background do they have? Where did they study? Are they working for a good hospital? Do they have any awards or other achievements that stand out? Do they give lectures and/or attend medical conferences? What have they published? Find out. 

8: Do They Follow Through on Your Treatment Plan and Make Sure You Understand It?

Illustration of person sitting in an infusion chair receiving an IV infusion

Are you clueless about your treatment plan or well informed? Do you know exactly why you are receiving the care and medication you are getting? Do you have regular check-ups or do you wonder when your next appointment should be? It’s important that a doctor works with you. You should be aware of your treatment plan and your doctor should make things as easy as possible for you. It is also important that they explain things to you in a way that you can understand. 

9: Do They Only Treat the Gut or Do They See the Whole Person?

I have come to find that many of my GI’s have only focused on my bowel habits. If I wasn’t having diarrhea several times a day then apparently I was perfectly OK. What about mental health, joint pain, nutrition, extraintestinal manifestations, reproductive health, and all the other areas of the body the disease can affect? What about offering patients a place to find support, etc? I can’t tell you how many times my symptoms were ignored if they were not about the number of bowel movements I was having per day even though my symptoms were stemming from having Crohn’s disease. It is important to find a GI who refers you to other specialists when you need them. 

10: Do You Have A Voice?

Does your doctor discuss treatments that you’re interested in and explain why or why not they are a good idea? Many doctors still don’t like “empowered patients.” It’s important to have a doctor who listens to you and that you come up with a plan that you are both comfortable with.  

11: Do They Offer Patient Education?

It’s important that your GI help you understand your illness and your treatment. As an added bonus I like to find a GI who works in a hospital that provides patient education nights or at least provides resources on how and where to get more credible information. 

gif of Severus Snape with text "There will be no foolish wand waving or silly incantations in this class."

12: Are They On Social Media?

Neither my IBD specialist or my motility specialist is on social media so clearly this is not a requirement for me but it is a bonus. Does it mean I want to be friends on Facebook or tweet my doctor all the time to get answers about my health? No. But I do enjoy the doctors I see out there using social media because it shows that they are involved in the healthcare culture online and that they care about what they are doing and the people they treat. It can also give you an idea of what about treating IBD they are interested in and is a view into how they communicate with others. These days many gastroenterologists who attend medical conferences will live tweet using a hashtag from the conference which is also a great way for patients to get some extra IBD education. 

If You Can Find A Doctor that Checks all Your Boxes...

If you can find all of this in one doctor hold onto them! For a long time I would just settle and I know in the past my Crohn’s disease could have been managed much better if I had a better doctor but I didn’t have the guts (no pun intended) to move on. 

If you are not getting what you deserve as a patient maybe it’s time to let them go.

gif of RuPaul saying "Now sashay away."


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