Find the right doctor. It’s one of the best things you can do for yourself when you have Crohn’s. Because Crohn’s is a lifelong illness, you want someone you can count on for the long haul.
You also want someone you trust and feel at ease with because chances are you’ll see a lot of your doctor over time.
You’ll want to look for these 10 things in a doctor:
1. Background in treating Crohn’s disease. Your Crohn’s may be mild and need a little help. Or it may be severe and require complex treatment. In that case, the number one thing to look for is the right kind of gastroenterologist.
A gastroenterologist is a doctor who specializes in digestion and problems in the gut. If you have severe Crohn’s, find a gastroenterologist who specializes in inflammatory bowel disease. You can find one at most medical centers and teaching hospitals or through the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America. If you can’t see a specialist, your primary care doctor may need to consult with one to plan your care.
2. Wants to work with your other doctors. Your Crohn’s doctor should be willing to work with your primary care doctor, who is your partner for treating any other medical problems you may have. Your Crohn’s doctor should also be able to refer you to people who will help you make other health changes such as quit smoking, get more exercise, or improve your diet.
3. Willing to treat Crohn’s aggressively if necessary. The better your treatment is at keeping your gut from becoming inflamed, the more likely you are to avoid scarring and other health problems that Crohn’s can cause. This helps you avoid hospital stays and surgeries and keep up with your job, family, and the things you enjoy.
4. Someone you can talk to. You want a doctor who can explain your disease or answer your questions fully and clearly. If your doctor doesn’t have enough time to answer your questions, make sure a nurse or other person in the office can.
5. A treatment style that works for you. Do you prefer someone who’s very direct or more personal? You’ll want a doctor who’s a good match.
6. Someone you like. Of course your doctor’s skills and judgment matter. There’s also a personal aspect. People who feel at ease with their doctors are more likely to stick with their doctors’ plan and keep up with their prescriptions.
7. Looks beyond drug treatment. Your doctor should also talk to you about more than medications. You also need to discuss food and nutrition, helpful lifestyle habits like exercise and not smoking, and surgery if it could help you.
8. A good office staff. Does the staff answer your calls or return them right away? Are they polite and helpful?
9. Insurance. Is the doctor on your insurance plan?
10. Easy access. If your symptoms get worse, can you get in to see the doctor quickly? Does the doctor respond to your calls or emails.
What to Do if Your Doctor Misses the Mark
If your doctor doesn’t hit the mark in all areas, these tips may help you:
Bring questions. Come to your doctor visit with a list of things that are on your mind. Bring up the most pressing ones first. Your doctor or a staff member might also answer questions by email. Let your doctor know if you don’t understand something or need something repeated. Ask anything — no question is too basic.
Be honest. Keep notes of your symptoms and the treatments you’ve tried, including over-the-counter drugs and nutrition supplements. Tell your doctor how you feel. And if you miss a dose of a prescribed drug, be sure to mention that.
If you don’t think your doctor is right for you, you can look for another one. Your insurance provider, regular doctor, friends, or the American College of Gastroenterology may be able to help you find one who specializes in treating Crohn’s.
- Richard Bloomfeld, MD, associate professor of medicine, director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Program, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston Salem, N.C.
- Prabhakar Swaroop, MD, assistant professor; director, Crohn’s and Colitis Program, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas.