Working with Your Healthcare Provider

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) persists or recurs over time. A long-term relationship with a knowledgeable and empathetic healthcare provider or therapist can be very important. Ideally, your healthcare provider should:

  • know your entire medical history,
  • recognize the importance of your symptoms,
  • empathize with your discomfort, and
  • be prepared to spend the necessary time explaining their meaning.

Whether you see a family healthcare provider, internist, or other specialist for your IBS, your primary care healthcare provider should help educate you about IBS and work with you, over the long term, to achieve the best possible results.

Effective communication – the healthcare provider-patient relationship – is an important part of effective long-term management of a functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder like IBS.

The patient interview by the health care provider is the most frequently practiced procedure, accounting for about 150,000 interviews in a clinician’s lifetime. However, the average visit is now too brief, and this has led to the decline of the humanistic approach to patient care.

You can help by taking an active role in your healthcare provider visit.

We encourage you to be proactive in your own health maintenance. Make the most out of your healthcare provider visit – be prepared.

Quick Tips to Help Manage IBS

Before Your Visit: 

  • Begin by educating yourself about IBS. Symptoms can be mild, moderate, or severe. They are chronic, intermittent, frequently variable, and often manageable.
  • Create a list of questions that you still have about your IBS and treatment options.  Use the IBS Visit Guide below to help ensure all questions can be answered during your visit. 
  • Set goals for what you want to get out of your visit.
  • Consider bringing a friend or family member to your appointment.
  • Ask if sending your questions prior to the visit is possible to allow optimal time for discussion. 

At Your Visit:

  • Provide your doctor with your list of questions and goals (noted above) that you created. 
  • Explain your symptoms in detail and how they are currently affecting your quality of life.
  • Mention any factors (e.g., diet, stress, mood) you think may be having an impact on your IBS.  If your provider does not work with those symptoms, ask for a referral.  
  • Mention tests and procedures you have completed and (if possible) bring those results to the visit.
  • Provide a list of medications, supplements, and vitamins that you are taking (including the dosage). 

After Your Visit:

  • Make sure to receive all copies of referrals, prescriptions, or information on paper or via the patient portal.
  • Schedule any follow-up appointments before leaving.
  • Follow the recommendations agreed upon during your visit.
  • Stay in contact with your healthcare team in between visits. 

IBS is a multifaceted disorder and, while there is no known cure, it can usually be managed. But like other chronic diseases, managing irritable bowel syndrome is not easy. Effective management is often dependent on a successful patient-healthcare provider relationship. Although the time you spend with your healthcare provider may be limited, you can help ensure that effective two-way communication takes place during your visit.

Healthcare Provider Visit Worksheet

Complete IBS Visit Guide and take it to your healthcare provider. By providing your healthcare provider with information, he or she may be able to gain a greater insight not ordinarily attainable during a standard 15-minute appointment. This list of Words to Know may help you better communicate your concerns.

Putting it All Together

For persons with IBS, effective diagnosis and treatment starts with an understanding of IBS. Work together with your healthcare provider or therapist. Develop your own IBS treatment plan and outcome goals. Working in partnership with a health professional can help achieve the best possible results.

What if you and your healthcare provider just don’t communicate or get along?

Leaving your healthcare provider can be a difficult decision. But it’s OK to consider leaving if your healthcare provider doesn’t like questions or doesn’t listen. Before bolting though, try to express your dissatisfaction. You may be able to correct the situation. Here are some tips on how to handle this decision.

Last modified on May 8, 2021

Adapted from IFFGD Publication #185 “Talking with Your Doctor About IBS” By: Sarah Quinton PsyD, Director, Behavioral Medicine for Digestive Health, Co-Director, Interdisciplinary Bowel Dysfunction Clinic, Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, IL. Edited by: Lin Chang MD, Professor of Medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Los Angeles, CA

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IFFGD is a nonprofit education and research organization. Our mission is to inform, assist, and support people affected by gastrointestinal disorders.

Our original content is authored specifically for IFFGD readers, in response to your questions and concerns.

If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting IFFGD with a small tax-deductible donation.

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