How to Tell If You Have the Right Doctor for Crohn's Disease
Does your Crohn's doctor have what it takes to give the care you need? Here are seven characteristics to consider -- or even insist on -- in a doctor, and some tips for making your relationship with your doctor work.
1. Experience treating Crohn's disease. For some people Crohn's is a mild disease, requiring little treatment. For many others, however, the disease is aggressive and requires complicated medical regimens with specialized medications. If your disease falls into the latter category, a gastroenterologist specializing in inflammatory bowel disease is the most important qualification. You can find one at most university medical centers and teaching hospitals, or check with the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America.
2. Willingness to coordinate care with your other doctors. The gastroenterologist who treats your Crohn's must be willing to work with your primary care doctor who coordinates treatment for any other medical problems you may have. If you do not have access to a gastroenterologist with experience treating Crohn's disease, your doctor may need to consult with a qualified gastroenterologist to help direct your treatment.
3. Willingness -- and ability -- to treat the disease aggressively. Uncontrolled inflammation can lead to intestinal scarring and other complications, which can require hospitalizations, surgeries, and time away from your job, family, and activities you enjoy. Aggressive treatment may stop inflammation before it can cause such damage. Aggressive treatment may mean using drugs that curb inflammation or suppress the immune system; biologic agents; or a combination regimen.
4. Good communication. Whether it's explaining your disease or answering your questions about treatments, you want your doctor to be able to communicate well. If time with your doctor is too short to get your questions answered, make sure the doctor has a nurse or other staff who can address them.
5. Willingness to discuss treatment options. When dealing with a lifelong disease like Crohn's, you may want to have a doctor who is willing to discuss treatment options and treat you as partner in your care. However, if you prefer to have a doctor who makes the decisions, it's important that your doctor understands that and is willing to take a stronger role in guiding treatment.
6. Likeability. While it's crucial that you trust your doctor's skills and judgment, it may be just as important that you like your doctor. Research shows that if you feel at ease with your doctor, you're more likely to follow the treatment plan and consistently take the medications your doctor prescribes.
7. Looks beyond medications. Medications should be just one part of Crohn's treatment. Your doctor may also talk with you about the importance of good nutrition. He may recommend vitamin supplements if you are deficient in some nutrients. Your doctor may also stress the importance of good lifestyle habits such as regular exercise and not smoking, and discuss surgical treatment options if you need them.
Other factors you should consider in a doctor include:
- Office staff. Do they answer your calls or return them right away? Do they treat you courteously?
- Insurance. Is your doctor on your insurance plan?
- Accessibility. If your symptoms get worse, can you get an appointment quickly? Does your doctor respond to your calls or emails?
If you answered yes to these questions, you likely have the right doctor.