10 Steps to Finding a Specialist if You Have UCby Tracy Davenport, Ph.D. Health Writer
If you have just been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (UC), you have a lot to consider. One of the initial steps forward is to find a qualified specialist. Read ahead for tips and tricks to make that job easier.
Determine what kind of specialist you need
One of the first specialists to consider is a gastroenterologist, also known as a GI doctor. A gastroenterologist is a physician with dedicated training in the management of diseases of the gastrointestinal tract and liver. You might also consider putting a rheumatologist on your team. Arthritis, or inflammation of the joints, is the most common complication of UC outside of the intestinal area, affecting as many as 25 percent of those living with UC.
Decide if you prefer a doctor of a certain gender
The conversations you will have with a specialist related to your UC will probably be some of the most personal conversations of your life. All specialists should act professionally, but you may have a personal preference on the gender you feel most comfortable with when you talk about these issues. For example, if you’re a woman, you may prefer communicating with a woman doctor.
Ask your primary care doctor for a referral
Your primary care doctor, and the nurse in your primary care office, can be a great help in referring you to a specialist. They will know who will work collaboratively with them on your care. Your doctor will also have feedback from other patients regarding which specialists to pursue and which to avoid. Phrasing the question like this can be helpful, “If you or a family member was diagnosed with UC, who would you contact?”
Contact support organizations
Find out who is in your insurance network
Depending on the type of insurance you have, there may be doctors in and outside of your network. An in-network provider is one contracted with the health insurance company to provide services to plan members for a pre-negotiated rate. Usually this means that a specialist who is in the network of your insurance company will be less expensive for you to see. When you talk to your insurance company, also ask about co-pays and any other out-of-pocket expenses related to specialty care.
Find out the distance to their offices
Many specialists will have more than one office where they see patients. Finding a specialist who practices at least one day a week close to where to where you live or work can be helpful.
Determine where they have hospital privileges
If you prefer one hospital over another in your area, it is important to find out which specialists have privileges to work in the hospital you prefer. Just because a specialist is located near your favorite hospital, it does not mean that they necessarily have permission to treat patients there.
Look at ratings by consumer organizations
Doctors are sometimes rated by consumer organizations dedicated to quality healthcare. An example is RateMDs. These sites can add information to your search, but the ratings may or may not be based on qualities that you find important.
Narrow your list to two or three
It can sometimes be difficult to find a specialist, especially in a rural area. When you are doing your research and compiling your list, try to keep at least two or three options available. It is not unusual for doctors to decline taking new patients if they are already overwhelmed by their current patient load, so you may need a second and third choice.
Find out the wait time for an appointment
There are two questions you need to ask when you call to make an appointment. The first question: How long will it take to get on the schedule for an initial appointment? The second question: How long will it take to be seen after the initial appointment if you have a sudden flare-up? For example, it may take six months to get in to see the specialist the first time, but once you are in the system, the doctor may then see you right away if you are having an issue.
Keep looking if it is not a good fit
For your first visit, be sure to bring some questions to ask. If during the appointment you find that the chemistry between you and the specialist is not there, keep looking. Each specialist will have a unique personality and their level of understanding should match your needs. Finding a specialist who you like and trust can make a big difference in your stress level and disease management.