Growing up with IBD since the age of 11, I have seen many different doctors for different aspects of my medical care. Some I have loved and some were not for me, some I have stuck with, and others I have left, but through it all I have been able to develop an expansive and well versed medical team. A team, that works together in some regards, and separate in others. This team has helped me to feel my best and has helped me through some of the most difficult and painful experiences of my life. So, today I want to share with you my team and some insight as to why I think expanding your health care team can help you too.
Why Is It Important to Expand Your Health Care Team?
- To Receive The Best Possible Care: Expanding your health care team can be an important step in receiving better medical care and finding the root of some medical issues you may be experiencing. I know what you may be thinking, “but I don’t want to see more doctors than I already do.” I totally understand where you are coming from, keeping up with appointments can be exhausting, but if it means getting better care and potentially solving some medical issues, than it is 100% worth it.
- To Get Diverse Opinions: Since humans have very complex bodies, it is important that we have a comprehensive team around us to ensure that we are getting the best care possible for all aspects of the body. No single person can know everything about a particular medical condition no matter how much training they have, and that is why it is important to diversify your medical team. I want to note, that by saying this, I am not shaming specialized medical professionals. I know they are extremely knowledgeable in their fields of study, but every doctor has different philosophies, treatment ideas, and tools that they like to utilize, so getting other opinions can be helpful.
- To Explore Other Treatments: By seeking medical advice from different specialists in various fields, you may be able to explore new treatment plans that may work for you and your condition. This can help you to find new treatments for your particular condition and symptoms, and it may even help you discover how to treat a problem that you could never find the root of.
Who Is On Your Health Care Team?
There are various people that can be included on your health care team. Below is a list of people that I lean on for support with my health. Use this list as an outline and tailor it to make it work for you and your condition. Some people on your list may be of greater and lesser importance to you, and that is okay. But, having a go-to person for all aspects of your health care is important. This ensures you have a team assembled and ready to take on any medical problems you may be facing.
Primary Care Doctor
Your primary care doctor is typically your first point of contact for any health related concerns. They are there to monitor your overall health, provide advice, routine medication, and assist with referrals to other specialized doctors when necessary. You primary care doctor also performs your annual check up which is a very important examination to make sure that your health is on track.
If you have a specific medical condition, you more than likely have a specialist. A specialist is a doctor who has extensive knowledge on a particular disease or field of medicine. For my Crohn’s disease I see a Gastroenterologist. Personally, she is the most important person on my health care team. Because my IBD is such a big part of my overall wellbeing, I ensure that I am on top of my appointments with my GI doctor and we speak at least 2-4 times a year. I turn to her for all things related to my IBD and overall health. However, you may have a different type of specialist, or a few for different conditions. Regardless, it is important to have specialists on your team for any medical conditions you may have.
Typically Specialists will have a Nurse or Specialized Nurse on their team. For myself, I have an IBD Nurse who works with my doctor. Specialized Nurses can be amazing resources because they are your primary contact when you cannot reach your Specialist. They typically assist with answering any questions or concerns related to your condition, providing advice for particular aspects of disease management, problem solving with the doctor, and also relaying information and concerns to and from your doctor. My IBD Nurse is such a critical person on my health care team. She is available every weekday to help me with problems or concerns and it has truly helped so much and provided me with a lot more peace of mind knowing someone is there.
Your Pharmacist is usually an underutilized tool, but someone who can be very helpful. Whether you need help with a specific medication you take, need to check drug interactions, or require suggestions for over the counter solutions, Pharmacists are very knowledgeable and can help you with a lot of your questions. When it comes to Biologic medication, it can also be helpful to rely on specialized Pharmacists for that particular drug. Personally, I take Entyvio, so if I ever have questions, I know I can call my drug coordinator and they can help direct me to a specialized Pharmacist. Regardless, your Pharmacist can be a very helpful person on your health care team.
Therapist, Psychologist, Psychiatrist
When it comes to your health care team, it is important to not only focus on your physical health, but also your mental health. A Therapist, Psychologist, or Psychiatrist can be helpful person to have on your health care team. Depending on what kind of mental health concerns you may be dealing with you may see a Therapist, Psychologist of Psychiatrist. For most people a Counselor/Therapist or a Psychologist would be helpful to walk through any problems you may be facing or any mental health concerns you may have like Anxiety or Depression. A Psychiatrist may also be helpful for people with more severe mental health conditions or who may require medication or medication plans. Regardless, having someone on your team to take care of your mental health is vital. I have been seeing a therapist for years for everyday life concerns but also to work through some trauma and deeper routed issues from my diagnosis with IBD. Living with a chronic illness can be difficult, so I believe everyone should use therapy if they can to help to work through emotions they may be experiencing and situations they may have faced.
Chiropractor, Physiotherapist, Massage Therapist
Many people struggle with muscle and joint pain, especially those with autoimmune conditions that directly or indirectly effect your bones, nerves, muscles, and joints. That is why a Chiropractor, Physiotherapist, and/or a Massage Therapist could be very helpful. Even if you don’t struggle with chronic muscle/joint/nerve pain, you more than likely have experienced an injury at some point. So, it is important to have a great team that can help you through chronic pain issues and/or injuries throughout your life. I have bad knees and have had many injuries on both my knees since high school. My Chiropractor and Physiotherapist have been extremely helpful for pain management and have also taught me a lot of exercises to alleviate pain and build muscle to strengthen around my knee.
Diet-culture and misinformation can make understanding food and nutrition very difficult. That is why a Dietician can be a very helpful person to have on your health care team. If you have a medical condition that effects your GI tract then referencing a Dietician is even more vital. But regardless, learning about nutrition and how to best tailor your diet for your medical conditions is very important. Food can be a powerful medicine and by using food to nourish your body, you can reduce inflammation and aid in the healing process.
A Naturopath or Holistic Doctor may not be for everyone, but they can be a very helpful professional to have on your team. Holistic Doctors and Naturopaths can provide some traditional treatment, but mainly use alternative medicine practices. Some common treatments include dietary changes, proper supplementation, exercise regiments and lifestyle changes. I have seen a Naturopath for my Crohn’s disease and he has been very helpful to provide me with proper supplementation, diet shifts, and alternative medicine treatments that provide some symptom relief and reduce inflammation.
Dentist & Optometrist
Although everyone should be seeing a Dentist and Optometrist for their teeth and eyes, many people with chronic conditions fail to share with these doctors that they have particular conditions and take certain medications. Many autoimmune conditions and medications can affect your teeth and eyes so it can be helpful to share with them your medical conditions and medications. Personally, I know that when I am in a flare I can experience eye pain due to inflammation in the eyes. I also have experienced acid reflux throughout my life with IBD and this can wear down the enamel on my teeth. So, sharing this information with my Optometrist and Dentist has been good to ensure that we are monitoring my teeth and eyes as time goes on.
Tips to Best Utilize Your Health Care Team
Although it would be fantastic if our doctors all intermingled and shared all of our medical information amongst themselves, this sadly is not usually the case. So, it is important to be proactive and to share information between your doctors to make sure everyone is informed about your health. Below are a few tips to best utilize your health care team and share information across people.
- Share Information Amongst Your Health Care Team
To ensure that everyone is informed, share your medical information among the members of your health care team. You may need to do this manually by emailing or printing a copy of lab/test results for your respective health care team members, or this could be done by giving your doctor permission to view medical information through an online medical record system. Whatever the case may be, it is important to have copies of your own medical files on hand.
- Make Some Lists
To keep things organized, keep an updated list of your doctors and medications. On your list of doctors, be sure to add contact information for each doctor for easy access when needed. Make sure to keep a copy of these lists updated and easily accessible, and bring them with you to all doctors appointments (especially with new doctors).
- Keep a Medical Binder
To keep everything organized consider keeping a medical binder. This can hold everything from your medical files, tests results, lab results, doctors notes, prescriptions, doctors lists, and more. To find out more about how to make a medical binder and to receive a FREE PRINTABLE CHECKLIST FOR DOCTORS APPOINTMENTS check out this blog post.
Overall, I hope you found this helpful and I hope that you take this information to build up your own healthcare team. Remember, that YOU DESERVE THE BEST POSSIBLE CARE, so do whatever you can to make that a reality!
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Your trusty, gutsy gal,
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