J. Sumner Bell III, MD, AGAF
Former Director, American Gastroenterological Association’s Patient Initiative
Digestive disorders are all too common. At some point in your life, you’ll have likely experienced a very common digestive symptom, such as diarrhea, constipation, bloating, or heartburn. Usually, the symptoms do not last long and are easily managed by a change of diet, oral hydration, and over-the-counter meds. If the gut does not respond in two or three days, or if you or a loved one are coping with a more serious condition like Crohn’s disease or celiac disease, you may be looking for some professional help.
The first step in managing your digestive health is visiting a gastroenterologist. Gastroenterologists specialize in treating disorders of the digestive tract and can help you understand your symptoms to develop a plan to manage, and hopefully overcome, your ailment.
While location, insurance, and office hours are all important factors to consider when choosing a care provider, it is very important to keep in mind that the doctor-patient relationship may also be as critical to your treatment as any medication. Choosing the right doctor is one of the most important decisions to make when it comes to your treatment and care plan.
Recognizing a meaningful doctor-patient relationship
A meaningful doctor-patient relationship is one in which you feel comfortable talking about your symptoms and asking questions in order to meet your immediate and future needs. Due to the potential “ick” factor of certain GI issues, you will want to feel safe and taken care of by your doctor. A successful doctor-patient relationship starts with an office chat where you are all of the following:
- Free to express your symptoms and lifestyle, as well as any diagnostic and treatment concerns.
- Given the opportunity to ask questions.
- Part of the decision-making process as you decide on the best testing and treatment options.
Becoming an empowered patient
As a patient, you have responsibilities to help make sure that you get the most out of your interactions with your gastroenterologist and to help ensure that you are empowered. Here are some tips to help you get started:
- Be prepared. Come with a detailed summary of your symptoms and past medical history.
- Get records in advance — either bring your medical records or have them forwarded.
- Educate yourself and ask your doctor for educational materials they recommend.
- Work together with your doctor to define the problem and decide treatment.
J. Sumner Bell III, MD, AGAF, Former Director, American Gastroenterological Association’s Patient Initiative, [email protected]