Gastroenterologists are physicians who specialize in managing diseases of the digestive system (also known as the gastrointestinal, or GI, system). This includes the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, colon, and other organs involved in digesting the food you eat. When the digestive tract is working well, nutrients are transmitted to your blood stream and then delivered throughout your body. But when it isn’t functioning properly, it may be a sign that you’re suffering from a disease like GERD, Celiac disease, pancreatitis, a GI infection, irritable bowel syndrome, or Crohn’s disease.
Due to the extra training they receive after medical school, gastroenterologists are able to perform endoscopy, which is a procedure where a tiny tube equipped with a built-in video camera is used to examine the inside of your intestinal tract. They are also skilled at removing polyps and interpreting biopsy results to help with their diagnosis. Because of a gastroenterologist’s in-depth knowledge of the entire digestive system, you should make an appointment with one as soon as you suspect that you have a gastrointestinal issue like Crohn’s disease.
How to Find a Gastroenterologist
Your primary care physician can help you by referring specific gastroenterologists he or she has worked with before. If you want a few more options, you can also visit the website for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation (ccfa.org) or the American Gastroenterological Association (gastro.org). Both of those organizations have referral services and search forms for gastroenterologists who specialize in Crohn’s disease.
If you want a more personal recommendation, think about joining the local chapter of the CCFA. You’ll be able to ask people who live near you about their experiences with different gastroenterologists. No matter who you see, make sure to check with your insurance company before setting up an appointment to double check that he or she is in your network (and to confirm that you don’t need a referral from your primary care doctor before your visit).
What to Look for in a GI Specialist
Once you have some names of gastroenterologists who practice near you, it’s time to get some other details. Look online to see where the doctors were educated and how long they’ve been in practice. Also call up their offices and ask how many patients they see over the course of a year and whether or not they have a specialty. “This is a lifelong disease, so you should really try and find a gastroenterologist who specializes in inflammable bowel disease, which includes Crohn’s disease,” says Dr. Robert Burakoff, co-editor of IBD Journal and clinical chief, division of gastroenterology, hepatology and endoscopy at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Massachusetts.
Dr. Burakoff also recommends that if you live near a bigger city, you should try to see if one of the gastroenterologists on your list is affiliated with an inflammable bowel disease center at a university hospital. “Those doctors will be the most up-to-date with treatment options,” he says. “Plus, if you go to an IBD center, you’ll also have access to colorectal surgeons who have specific experience with IBD.”
One other thing to look for is whether or not any of the doctors has the initials FACG or FACP after his or her name. These letters indicate that the doctor is a Fellow of the American College of Gastroenterology or a Fellow of the American College of Physicians, which means that he or she has shown achievement in the field of gastroenterology.