Getting the Most Out of your Visit with the Gastroenterologist

It takes two. In every relationship, there is a little give and a little take, right? This is true for your patient-doctor relationships too!UntitledMy message to you today:  Be an active partner in this relationship! You and your doctor should work collaboratively together in an effort to help you feel your very best. Your relationship with your doctor should feel like a partnership…not a dictatorship! Mutual collaboration and respect is key! If you can’t work together with your doctor, it just might be time to find a new one. Just sayin’!

Last summer, in June 2014, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Doug Drossman at the University of North Carolina Patient Care Day: An Expert Update on Treatments for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. We both spoke at this event that featured interactive workshops. My talk, of course, was on diet, particularly the low FODMAP diet. Dr. Drossman’s talk focused on how to make the most of your doctor’s visit. As a world renowned leader in functional gut disorders and the President of the Rome Foundation, Dr. Drossman specializes in both biopsychosocial medicine and gastroenterology.

In 2012, Dr. Drossman founded the Drossman Center for the Education and Practice of Biopsychosocial Care (DrossmanCare) which focuses on improving healthcare by improving doctor-patient communications. Improving patient-doctor communications is shown to improve healthcare outcomes for both patient and doctor! No surprise there!

In my opinion, given the sensitive nature of taking about GI symptoms, your relationship and comfort level with your gastroenterologist is particularly important! During your meeting with the doctor, you should feel you are being heard. Unfortunately, in this technology focused world we live in, doctors are sometimes buried behind their computer! This does not help the patient-provider relationship one bit! Try to get your provider to talk to you face to face to get their undivided attention!

Here are a few resources to help you make the most of your doctor’s visit:

For starters, Dr. Drossman shared this great video with me…to share with you. I suggest you take a look at the video with Dr. Drossman and Dr. Chey titled:  Health Body, Healthy Mind, Talking about your GI health found in this link. I think this video shows the reality of  the impact IBS has on real people! YOU are not alone. IBS impacts up to 1 in 5 Americans! It’s easy to feel you are all alone when you have a  functional gut disorder. Most people keep their symptoms to themselves, right? But… providing honest and open dialogue is SO important at your doctor’s visit. Even if you feel embarrassed to discuss your bathroom habits, be rest assured your gastroenterologist has heard it all! The more accurately you tell your story, the more helpful your doctor can be in helping you manage your symptoms or identify a treatable condition.

Prior to your first appointment, write a few notes including the following:

  • Create a timeline:  when did your symptoms start and did they accompany a trip out of the country, with an episode of gastroenteritis or food poisoning? Or have you had them most of your life? Did they worsen or occur after a stressful event?
  • Do you have a family history of GI issues? Do you have any  family members that have Celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease or perhaps a relative with chronic belly aches or IBS?
  • How often are your GI symptoms impacting your quality of life? Are you able to work outside the home? Do you travel without worry? Can you eat at restaurants? Are you in pain daily?
  • If you had to rate how you feel on a scale of 1-100% (100% being the very best), what number best represents how you feel on a general basis?
  • Do your symptoms wax and wane or do you have symptoms daily?
  • What symptom or symptoms do you find the most problematic?
  • Have you found any tricks to help manage your symptoms?
  • List all the medications and supplements (including herbs!) and dosages you are currently taking.
  • Be prepared to talk about your poop! Yes, this can provide key information about what is happening in your body!

For additional hints on how to talk to your doctor, check out two more resources that Dr. Drossman generously shared:  How to Talk to Doctor handout from UNC’s Functional Gut and Motility Center and this blog post provides even more tips on preparing and making the most of your doctor’s visit.

After you visit with your gastroenterologist, ask them what is the best way to get hold of them if you have a question. Not all doctor’s keep an active email thread going and would prefer you called their office. Knowing what is the preferential way of communicating for your doctor and utilizing this way of contacting him or her is a way to show your respect and enhance communication.

I hope this post helps you make the best of your time with your gastroenterologist.  If you can’t work respectively and collaboratively together, you may need to part ways and find a new doctor.  Remember though, it takes two.  Do your part to help create a healthy and successful relationship… to ultimately guide your treatment and better your health!


8 replies on “Getting the Most Out of your Visit with the Gastroenterologist

  • Christianne McCall

    Thanks for this article. I just had my first appointment with a Gastro after suffering with IBS for over 20 years. I met with the PA. She ordered bloodwork, and xray and a colonoscopy.

    She was nice but YOUNG. Not sure I am completely comfortable with her. I will get all my tests done and see what happens. I may move to someone else.

  • Trish

    What good questions! Some things I had forgotten but these reminded me. Good point to note, that sometimes you need to seek out someone you feel more comfortable with (not just with gastroenterologists). I am lucky that I like my current gastroenterologist a lot and trust him. In this I am doubly fortunate – that he is the person my GP referred me to – and I like her a lot as well. Having had other experiences in the past, I really appreciate my good fortune. You’ve given me something to be grateful for today.

  • Karen

    I missed this article until now. Thank you. It’s always good to be reminded of ways to improve the doctor/patient relationship. I am getting ever more comfortable with my Gastroenterologist.

    What do you think of this? I have two friends who have been given information about the FODMAP diet. One was given the information from her Internist, the other by a Gastroenterologist (when she asked for it at my suggestion). Both were handed a sheet of information and told to avoid all the foods in the high FODMAP column. When I said it was supposed to be an elimination diet and that not all foods needed to be avoided forever, they said that’s not what the doctor said. Neither has any intention of looking into the diet further after seeing how many foods they believe need to be eliminated.

    Do you run into this kind of misinformation often? Or am I way off base?

    Thank you

  • Laura

    My 7 year-old daughter has been on a low-FODMAP diet for the past five weeks. Her GI suggested it after finding no cause for her daily abdominal pain. He suspects IBS. She has had a definite improvement in symptoms! We were looking forward to starting the process of reintroducing foods when she got a sinus infection and was put on a anti-biotic. Toward the end of the 10 days anti-biotic regime she starting having stomach aches again and they haven’t stopped. Wondering if it is the anti-biotic? Although it did not start until the end of the treatment. (By the way, she is taking the Bio-kult probiotic as well). So, now I am at a loss as to when to start the reintroduction of food. Feels like we should just stay on it to get to a good baseline again, although after 5 weeks she is more than ready to add some foods. We met with the dietician at the GI office but unfortunately she and the Doctor have just recently heard of the FODMAP diet and are not yet very knowledgable. The dietician gave me some handouts and thankfully – your website! I would love to hear any suggestions you may have at this point!

    • katescarlata

      Hi Laura,
      Has the pedi GI tested your daughter for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth?-that would be something I would recommend. As far as initiating the re-introduction phase, I would try to do this when she has good symptom control on the low FODMAP diet rather than try now when she has symptoms. It would be difficult to determine a food reaction vs. an upset stomach from the antibiotics. The antibiotic probably altered her gut bacteria and hopefully that will settle down soon. Be sure to discuss any concerning symptoms w/ her GI doctor.

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