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IBD and Primary Care Physicians

I had a really great internist for about a decade. His subspeciality was gastroenterology which gave him a unique understanding of what I was going through as an IBD patient. There was mutual trust between us and I always left his office feeling more hopeful than when I came in.

However, things began to change when I was going through a period of searching for answers. I never ever felt well for a while and was starting to experience more distressing, hard to avoid symptoms at the time. While it took about four years for the reason behind it to be discovered, I didn’t like how my internist handled things during the process. He made judgments on how I was doing based on appearance; he bluntly told me there couldn’t be anything wrong with me because I had gained so much weight. At multiple appointments, he subtly suggested I needed to adopt a more upbeat, positive attitude in order to feel better.

Letting go of my primary care doctor

I finally threw my hands up and decided to no longer reach out to him for anything and consequently have been without a primary care doctor for a few years. I never thought it was truly important for me to have one because I see so many specialists. We all know that those of us with Crohn’s Disease or ulcerative colitis have way too many appointments as it is so adding one more wasn’t high on the list of priorities.

The importance of a doctor/patient relationship

I, as I know so many of you reading this, know how difficult it is to start from scratch with a new physician. Especially one who I always looked at as a “go to” doctor for many people. In order for an internist to be effective, in my opinion, he/she needs to really get to know you. Obviously, this occurs over time but it is important that a patient has a good relationship with his/her primary care doctor.

After all, when you suffer from a chronic illness like inflammatory bowel disease, life is stressful enough. We deal with enough trial and error with not only medications but doctors, procedures, and so many other things related to our health. The last thing we need is to add something or someone in our lives (that is supposed to benefit our overall well being) that is a source of stress and/or anxiety. That is why I couldn’t imagine adding ANOTHER doctor to my care team.

Until recently.

Relying on specialists

I have learned over the past six months or so that I cannot rely solely on specialists for my care. There are things I need help with that are too much for me to ask my other doctors for. I also realized that all of my specialists are at least an hour away. Meaning, all of my doctors are at least that far away also. Given I often have to visit the ER at a local hospital, it would probably make my life a lot easier if there was a local doctor who actually knew me. AND, who the hospital actually knew too.

While I know it absolutely sucks to have to start over with a new physician, sometimes it is warranted. I know I did the right thing by cutting ties with my old doctor, despite how long I had been a patient of his. I had one appointment with a new internist and it went well.

Helpful thoughts

If you are in a similar position as me, I have some thoughts that I hope might help.

Some things I have thought about that are important for me when choosing a new internist are:

  1. Trust. It goes without saying that I need to trust my physician but it is a two-way street. I want and need my doctor to take me at my word.
  2. Accessibility. The one I am currently seeing allows and encourages text message communication. Knowing that I can essentially reach my new doctor at any time is really very comforting to me.
  3. Intelligence. While I don’t need my primary care physician to be the top internist in America, he/she needs to be intelligent. I don’t need my doctor to be an expert on IBD either. For me, I just need my internist to understand how much I have gone through with my disease. I need and want my doctor to know that with all of that trauma comes experience and a deeper understanding of my body than most.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • thedancingcrohnie moderator
    7 months ago

    Trust is so important between a patient and doctor relationship. I love that you have that as your #1. I couldn’t agree more. If you feel like you can’t trust your doctor, move on to the next!

    Always dancing,
    Elizabeth (team member)

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