Consider This When Choosing Your Gastroenterologist
There are many decisions that must be made when living with Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. From selecting an insurance carrier to deciding if you should start a biologic, the questions are endless and ever-changing. However, one of the most important decisions is choosing the best gastroenterologist (GI) who will treat you as you navigate this twisting journey of living with an autoimmune disease.
Typically, you begin seeing a GI when you have symptoms that must be addressed sooner rather than later. This leads to seeing a doctor who is available the soonest, rather than who is considered "the best" in your area because the waitlist to be seen as a new patient can be 6 months or longer. Maybe you hit it off, maybe you get the right treatment for you, and maybe you end up being his/her patient for many years.
Reasons you might need a new IBD doctor
But, what if it doesn't work out? Or worse, what if you have a GI whom you love but they leave the practice to pursue another career or relocate somewhere that is not convenient for you? Or what if you move and have to begin the hunt for new doctors in your area starting from scratch?
I recently had the unfortunate experience of having the GI whom I have seen since 2011 (and truthfully adored) leave the practice to focus on research and no longer would be working with patients. I immediately went into panic mode, thinking of all the reasons I enjoyed being treated by this doctor and wondering how I would find another GI I liked just as much. But, there were certain criteria that had to have been met in order for me to choose my new GI, and below are some of them.
How to choose a new gastroenterologist: key factors
Of course, it is important for your GI to be available within a short amount of time. While it seems like the "best" doctors are booked months out, the ability to be seen, especially when experiencing symptoms, is critical. If your preferred GI is not available in the timeframe you need, you can always be seen by someone in his/her practice so that you are no longer considered a "new patient" and will find it easier to schedule a follow-up with your preferred doctor.
However, keep in mind that it may always be a challenge to schedule with a doctor who is currently unavailable for several months, so seeing a GI who consistently has availability is preferred.
This is a huge one for me. My previous gastroenterologist and I exchanged messages through the patient portal which was much easier than calling the office, being put on hold, talking to a nurse who would then relay the message to the doctor, and then call me back. I knew I could always count on her to reply by the end of the same day I sent the original message and get the ball rolling on whatever it was I needed.
For instance, I traveled to Cuba in 2014 and was feeling exhausted midway through the trip. I knew it wasn't typical fatigue from travel so I messaged my doctor letting her know how I was feeling and she had a prescription for blood work sent directly to my lab so that I could be tested upon returning home. I actually was flaring and contacted a parasite while traveling, which was all addressed swiftly due to my GI's availability via online messaging and her quick actions.
Speaking of addressing issues swiftly, I am a fan of GIs who are proactive in their treatment approach. I appreciated when my GI suggested getting a colonoscopy prior to getting pregnant with both of my children. It was also well appreciated when bloodwork was scheduled just to be sure my essential vitamin levels were in check. Letting IBD go unmonitored for an extended period of time, even when feeling well, is a risk, so having a GI who is on top of symptoms, testing, or anything else that seems awry is especially important in my book.
Doctors who don't listen to their patients are a huge red flag for me. I have always been an advocate for my own health, and do a (cautious) amount of research for any medication I am prescribed. I value a doctor who listens to my concerns and understands any hesitations or questions I have regarding my Crohn's treatment plan.
And, on the flip side, it is important for doctors to understand when you are not feeling well and want to take a more aggressive approach to your disease. Listening and understanding, along with having good bedside manners is one of the critical characteristics I look for in a GI because the last thing I want when I am sick is to have to deal with a doctor who makes my mental health just as bad as my physical health.
Knowledge & IBD specialization
I saved the most important characteristic for last – how knowledgeable a GI doctor is specifically about Crohn's is the top of my list when looking for a new physician. Some gastroenterologists specialize in celiac disease, colon cancer, or IBS, while others focus on ulcerative colitis and Crohn's. It is best to choose a specialist who has extensive knowledge about your disease so that it is treated properly.
I am also fortunate enough to live in Philadelphia where some of the top GIs in the country are located, but if you live in an area where the doctors are not as knowledgeable about IBD, traveling to their location is not a bad idea. When it comes to your health, seeing a top-rated physician sometimes means traveling a bit in order to get proper care.
GI care is so important with IBD
At the end of the day, selecting a new GI can be quite daunting. There are many factors to consider and sometimes we have no choice when urgent care is needed. However, if you are in the market for a new GI, these are some characteristics to consider so that you are treated in the best way possible.
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