Establishing a good relationship with your healthcare team can make a difference in how well you manage your appointments as well as your condition. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to make each visit to the doctor go more smoothly.
If you are going to many appointments, you may want to get into the habit of keeping track of your symptoms and how they affect you so that you are prepared with this information for each visit. You may also want to get into the habit of remembering to follow up after your appointments as necessary.
Crohn’s disease impacts more than your gut. It can affect the entire GI tract, from the mouth to the anus. Both Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis can be progressive, so over time, your symptoms could get worse or change altogether. That's why it's important to be open about all of your symptoms when discussing your treatment plan with your gastroenterologist.
It’s also important to keep track of your medical history. Since many doctors’ offices use Electronic Medical Records (EMR)An EMR is a digital version of a paper chart that contains all of a patient's medical history from one provider's office., you might want to ask your healthcare team if they are using an EMR system. If so, you could have access to it to help you keep track of your health information online.
Additionally, keep in mind that every doctor’s visit may not be the same, so you may want to make some adjustments in the way you prepare for each appointment. For example, an initial consultation with a new doctor is going to take more time and advance preparation than a routine check-up. Different types of visits may include:
- Initial consultation
- Second (or more) opinion
- Follow up—to review tests, discuss treatment, etc.
- Routine check-up
- Review symptoms
- Discuss medication changes
Before each appointment:
- If you’re new to a doctor’s practice, check to see that they accept your insurance—and be ready to provide your health and medical history.
- Keep a log of your symptoms—even ones that may not seem like they are related to your condition, such as eye, skin, and joint problems—as well as how they affect you (e.g., how many lifestyle changes you may be making as a result of your symptoms). Bring this information to each appointment. The Doctor Discussion Guide can help.
- Keep a log of questions that come up in between appointments to help you remember everything you want to ask. Questions could include things that have to do with your symptoms, diet, treatment, relationships, insurance, etc.
- When scheduling an appointment, make sure the office staff knows the nature of your concerns so they can allot the appropriate amount of time for your visit or appointment. A first appointment or consultation is going to require more time than a follow-up to review tests or a routine check-up.
- Consider bringing a friend or relative to your appointments to help you write things down, remind you to discuss your concerns, talk with your healthcare team, and to help you remember what was said.
During each appointment:
- It’s important to take the time you need to accurately talk about your symptoms. You shouldn’t feel rushed during your appointment. If you are embarrassed about giving details, remember that your healthcare team is there to help you, and has likely heard other patients describe similar symptoms.
Describe your symptoms over time—and don’t be afraid to add details. Details are how your doctor or nurse learn from you, and the more descriptive you can be, the better. (Your symptoms log or Doctor Discussion Guide will come in handy). For example, some people may say “I’m fine” when asked how they are doing, but if symptoms have been flaring or you are making changes in your routines to accommodate your condition, a standard answer is not going to help your doctor complete the picture he or she needs to know whether your treatment plan is effective. Tell your doctor:
- When symptoms began and how often they occur.
- Does anything make them feel better or worse?
- Use a scale of 1-10 to describe how severe the pain is as well as descriptive words to describe pain or discomfort, such as “dull,” “throbbing,” “intense,” or “sharp.”
- Describe how your symptoms affect your daily routines, and try to be as specific as possible, e.g. “I’m sleeping 12 hours a day” or “I wake up three times a night” rather than “I’m not sleeping normally.”
- Don’t be afraid to point to your body to explain symptoms, or take a picture you can show to your doctor if your appointment is at a later date.
Be ready to answer your doctor’s questions—and to ask your own.
- You may want to ask for additional details about any tests you may need for your Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis diagnosis, follow-up, or routine check-up.
- Discuss your treatment goals with your doctor and ask about your options.
- Before you leave, repeat what the doctor has told you and ask for clarifications if you need to. You should know what your next steps are and when you should be concerned about your symptoms.
Before you leave the doctor’s office:
- Right after your appointment, schedule your follow-up.
- If you don’t already know, ask the office staff what is the best way to contact your healthcare team (e.g. via phone, email, or text).
- If you had any tests done, find out when results will come in—and don’t forget to get them.
Becoming your own best advocate
To get the best care possible, patients need to feel comfortable enough with their healthcare team to advocate for themselves and make their health a priority. So if you’re not getting the kind of attention or support you need, or feel your current team is not a good fit, you might want to consider switching to another doctor or practice. Seeking second (or more) opinions or switching doctors is your right—and many doctors understand that some patients may move on to find the care that is best for them.