Talking About Alternative & Complementary Treatments With Your Doctor
Last updated: April 2022
In our four-part series of interviews with gastroenterologist Dr. Neilanjan Nandi, he will be answering patient questions on all-things IBD. Next up is Matt Nagin, who asks about alternative treatments for Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.
Frame the conversation with your doctor
As someone who’s been living with Crohn's for 30 years, Matt shares challenges he’s had in talking to doctors about alternative treatments. When met with skepticism, Matt asks, "Is there a way to bridge the divide as a patient ... so you can feel more on the same page?"
Dr. Nandi says that it’s all about how we approach the conversation. He makes recommendations for framing the conversation:
- Cite where you heard about a treatment: A doctor is more likely to be receptive to something you saw from a reputable foundation or symposium.
- Consider using "complementary" instead of "alternative": The word "alternative" can sometimes have a negative connotation, meaning "instead of." If you’re looking to pair your medication with a complementary therapy, your doctor may be more receptive.
- Verbalize respect on both sides: Dr. Nandi says physicians should verbalize their respect for a patient's opinions and desires in shared decision-making. He also says, as a patient, you should verbalize your respect for their professional opinion. Dr. Nandi gives the example, "'Hey doc, I want to listen to you because you’re trained to read and interpret and understand this information. What are the risks and benefits of this complementary therapy?'"
Pursuing alternative and complementary therapies
Matt also asks about a variety of specific treatments he’s heard discussed in the IBD community. Dr. Nandi offers his experience with each, but says there are two key things to do when considering any treatment:
- Talk to your doctor: Keep them in the loop if you start something new. There may be complications or drug interactions you need to know about.
- Assess the risk: Is this therapy low risk or high risk? Is it worth the risk?
"It’s OK to search 'Dr. Google,'" Dr. Nandi says. "But then verify it with your clinician."
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