A Team Approach
Creating a partnership between you and your physician is important. Not only does it affect the quality of your care, but an uncomfortable relationship with your physician can also affect how well you will respond to treatment and how likely you will be to follow your doctor’s advice. You and your physician both have responsibilities in creating a good working relationship.
Your Role as Patient
You have an important role in being a part of a working team. To help in creating a good relationship with your physician, treat the doctor and office staff with courtesy and respect. When the doctor gives advice—even if it is unwanted lifestyle changes—follow it carefully. Ask for help if you need it, whether it’s with quitting smoking, losing weight, or beginning an exercise program.
Not every digestive problem has a quick fix, and your doctor may require time and tests to make a diagnosis. Part of your job is to give your health care provider enough time to accurately diagnose the problem.
Studies confirm having a good doctor-patient relationship improves IBS. A study of 262 adult patients with IBS found 37 percent of those who received quality contact and discussion from their doctors reported moderate or substantial improvement in their disease, compared to other groups that received only observation.
Your Specialist’s Role
You also have the right to have certain expectations of the members of your health care team. You need to be fully informed about your diagnosis and treatment options, including understanding the costs and risks of treatment. You have the right to have all of your questions answered and have a say in decisions affecting your health.
Your Family Doctor
Because the gastroenterologist provides specialized care in gastroenterology, you will still need your family doctor for other medical problems. In some cases, your primary care physician may monitor your digestive health issues, while others require long-term care with the GI doctor. Your specialist can send progress reports and test results to your primary care provider, but you will need to ask, sign release forms, and provide necessary contact information.
After the Visit
When you leave the doctor’s office, you should have a good idea of what to do next. You may have instructions for diagnostic tests, a prescription for medication or lifestyle changes, or a referral to a professional better suited to help you.
Rarely, a physician will insist that symptoms are merely “in your head” and that you need to relax. While mental stress can impact your physical health, if you feel your concerns were dismissed too casually, then speak up.
Sometimes, a patient and a health care provider are simply not a good fit, even if the doctor was referred by someone you trust or is covered by your insurance company. For instance, if you are interested in complementary approaches, and the only tool in his arsenal is a prescription pad, you may want to consider finding a new provider. Or she may have a good reputation, but also has a horrible bedside manner.
Decide what’s important to you and ask yourself the following questions after your initial appointment:
Was the physician respectful to me?
Did the physician really listen to what I had to say?
Did the physician spend a sufficient amount of time with me, or did I feel rushed during the appointment?
Did the physician seem to have any useful suggestions?
If you feel good about the visit, you are on your way to developing a good patient/doctor relationship. If not, then you have the right to your medical records and test results, and you can change doctors or get a second opinion before you proceed.