If you have ulcerative colitis, finding the right doctor can help you manage your symptoms in the short term and maintain your overall health over the long term.
“You need a good relationship with your doctor, so you have someone who supports you when you’re well, as well as when you’re ill,” says Sashidhar Sagi, MD, a gastroenterologist and hepatologist with Indiana University Health in Indianapolis, who specializes in treating digestive disorders, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
If you plan to switch doctors — either because of a change in insurance, a move to a new area, an issue with your current doctor, or a decision to switch from your primary care doctor to a specialist — it’s important to find a doctor who will be the right fit for you.
Which Doctor Is Right for You?
The symptoms of ulcerative colitis can have a major impact on your quality of life. Finding a doctor you feel comfortable with and who knows your condition can help you get the best control of your symptoms. Start with these steps.
Consider seeing a specialist. A gastroenterologist is trained in the medical management of ulcerative colitis, and large practices often have a doctor with an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) specialty, says Gil Melmed, MD, director of IBD clinical research at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles and cochairperson of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation’s IBD Qorus, a quality-of-care initiative.
Gastroenterologists also do colonoscopies. The test is “a very important tool for understanding, evaluating, and assessing the state of colitis, which enables treatment decisions,” says Dr. Melmed. A gastroenterologist can also help you find the right medication to address the digestive tract inflammation causing your symptoms.
If you live in an area with fewer choices of specialists, and you’re only to see them once or twice a year, it’s a good idea to see a local doctor, such as a primary care physician, for regular care.
Use an online directory. If you don’t know where to start to find a specialist, you can use the physician directory on the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation’s website or check the websites of other associations, such as the American College of Gastroenterology.
Ask for recommendations. If you feel comfortable doing so, you could ask your current doctor for recommendations, says Melmed.
Other people who are living with ulcerative colitis can be another valuable resource. Asking them for doctor references can help guide you to the right place, and joining an ulcerative colitis support group is a great way to network and exchange information.
Make some phone calls. If you have a list of doctors to try but aren’t sure which one will be best for you, it may be worth calling the office and asking how many ulcerative colitis patients the doctor sees, to get a sense of how much experience the physician has with the condition, Melmed advises.
Aim for a long-term relationship. A good physician will treat not just the disease but also you as a person and help you understand the impact of the condition on your quality of life, Dr. Sagi says. You’ll be seeing your physician for a long time, so it’s important to have a good working relationship with them.
Consider a hospital system. As many as 45 percent of people with ulcerative colitis may need surgery, according to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. It’s not necessary to get routine care at a hospital that specializes in ulcerative colitis surgery, Melmed says, but finding one within your insurance network is something to consider.
As you conduct your search for the right doctor, be sure your medical records follow you. “It can be tricky for a doctor to see new patients when the records aren’t available,” Melmed says. Either make sure your records precede you to the new office, or bring them with you to ensure you get the best care from the start.