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Switching Physicians in the Hospital?

Most of us know that suffering from a chronic illness like Crohn’s Disease or ulcerative colitis can be incredibly tough to navigate. It is even more difficult when you are working with a doctor that you don’t trust, don’t feel is working with you, doesn’t have the ability to fully understand the complexity of your situation, doesn’t really listen, etc.

There are a lot of reasons why a doctor might not be a good fit for someone and that doesn’t necessarily mean that person is a “bad doctor.” He/She could be absolutely perfect for someone else but for whatever reason, that relationship does not work for you.

When I was in the hospital recovering from surgery one time, my mom became friendly with a woman whose son had inflammatory bowel disease and just went through an operation with my surgeon’s partner. My surgeon’s partner is the one that is more well known in the community of colorectal surgeons and is an absolutely brilliant man. However, the way my doctor and his partner operate is like night and day in my opinion.

I don’t respond well to a doctor telling me what to do and putting strict demands on me.

I want a doctor who is going to listen to the things I have to say and take it into consideration when making decisions about my care. For example, I was known on the GI floor in my old hospital as the person who left the quickest after having such huge surgeries. When the average length of stay would be about 2 weeks (sometimes longer) for some of the surgeries and associated complications I have had, I managed to escape after three days a lot of the time. My doctor gave me a list of things I needed to do before being discharged (have bowel output, be able to ingest fluids, and be okay on oral pain medication.)

Other than that, he understood my reasons for not wanting to eat in the hospital and knew that I would once I got home. He understood why even though it was better for me to receive IV medications for a little while longer, as opposed to jumping up and trying to move around and transition to oral medications very quickly, that it was better for my overall well being to be out of a place that was so triggering to me. I could go on but I think you get the idea.

My mom told me that this woman’s son absolutely NEEDED a doctor like my surgeon’s partner. This man left no wiggle room for anything. In his mind, he knew what was best and if you were under his care, that is what you were going to do. No ifs, ands or buts about it. According to this mom, her son responded to a doctor like that and would have done very poorly with one who allowed for him to do things his way.

That example has stuck out in my mind a lot because while a lot of doctors are supremely awful and ignorant, there are doctors who I recognize are magnificent in what they do, but are just not right for me. And with any relationship/partnerships, sometimes people can work together and sometimes the fit is not right. Either way, that is okay!

The reason for me bringing this up is because I have heard of and experienced a lot of places that do not allow you to switch doctors once you start with one.

In addition to IBD, I suffer from chronic migraines so I started going to a headache clinic (my 2nd) last year. This hospital is one of the top in the country. I was assigned a physician since I didn’t know anyone to begin with who was very nice, somewhat understanding, and I could tell had the best intentions. But, she was not the kind of doctor that I thrive with. When I went to try and change physicians since I met one of her partners who happened to be close with my previous neurologist, I was told they do not permit patients to switch physicians in the practice.

I was dumbfounded. I know it can be awkward and all of that but …. How can they expect that the first doctor someone sees will definitely be the right fit? And if not, what are the patient’s options then? Either stick it out in a relationship that is not going to work, OR stop seeking treatment there. I had to choose the latter because working with someone who causes me more frustration was definitely not going to get me anywhere. It was only going to cause me more stress in my life.

I have heard this to be the case in a lot of practices. I have a friend who was having issues with her GI and wanted to switch but because she already started with this physician, they would not allow her to. It is mind blowing to me.

For those of us who suffer from Crohn’s Disease or ulcerative colitis, we know how complicated all of our stories are. We have such different experiences, needs, expectations, etc. We are all so individual that it may take a couple different appointments to find the right physician. When I switched GI’s, I was in desperate need of help and made an appointment with the first doctor I could see at one of the best hospitals for IBD.

This doctor minimized everything I was experiencing, got mad at me when I would reach out, and I could tell her passion lied in research and patients were more of an obligation. Patient care was not her focus and given we need people doing research, I cannot fault her for that. But, I knew from the very beginning that she was not going to be the person to help me.

I stuck it out with her for a number of months but when things continued to get worse, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I reached out to my surgeon who made a call to get me in to see the top IBD specialist. I was so thankful this hospital did not have the same policy because I don’t know what I would have done! The hospital I am treated at now is so progressive and very patient-centric. What if I couldn’t switch gastroenterologists? I would have either had to suffer with the doctor I started with or find a place that was less than ideal for a person with a complex medical history.

Have you experienced this while trying to get adequate care? Have you personally found more hospitals or practices around you to begin adopting this policy? Has it impacted you personally? Do you agree with this mentality? If you are someone who is stuck with a doctor you don’t particularly care for because the facility is excellent, do you have any tips on how to make things work a little better? I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences!

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
    1 year ago

    This has happened to me. I saw a gastroenterologist once and we did not get along at all. She had horrible bedside manners and was pushing surgery even though I clearly told her I did not want to explore that option until we tried another. She was pushy and had zero compassion. Needless to say, after that consultation, I wanted to switch doctors, only to find out that it wasn’t an option! I found that so crazy. I was told that since it was a group practice, you couldn’t switch doctors.

    This was upsetting. I ended up leaving for an entirely new practice. I found an amazing doctor who worked with me. And here I am about a year later, no surgery and thriving.

    Always dancing,
    Elizabeth (team member)

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