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Five Tips for Preparing for Your First Gastroenterology Appointment

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If you or your primary health care provider suspect a diagnosis of ulcerative colitis (UC) or another gastrointestinal disorder, chances are your next step will be to see a gastroenterologist (GI), a doctor who specializes in disorders of the digestive system. It may feel intimidating or nerve-wracking to see a specialist or a new doctor of any kind, but proper preparation can help set you up for success during your appointment. Here are a few tips to prepare for your first GI appointment. 

What is Ulcerative Colitis?

1. Confirm whether you’ll need a referral from your primary care provider 

It’s best if you can get this information before you schedule your GI appointment, but at least a month before your appointment you’ll want to check with your insurance company to see if you need a referral to see a specialist. If so, put a referral request in with your primary care physician as soon as possible. You might be required to make an appointment with them, so it’s helpful to get this part of your gastroenterology appointment preparation done as early as you can. 

While you’re looking at your insurance benefits, make sure you get an idea of how much it costs for you to see a specialist. Many insurance companies have a “specialist co-pay” listed on the insurance card. It also doesn’t hurt to double-check that the gastroenterologist you’re going to see is in-network. This will help cut down on any surprises like out-of-network charges or lack of insurance coverage for your appointment.

2. Figure out what paperwork you will need 

Preparing for your first gastroenterology appointment will involve lots of paperwork — whether it’s forms for the doctor’s office, requesting your medical records from your primary care physician, or gathering notes on your signs and symptoms.

Before your first GI appointment, be sure to request any medical history, test results, or other health records be sent to your new gastroenterologist’s office, especially if this doctor works in a different practice or hospital than the health care providers you’ve seen in the past. Health facilities often have processes set in place or specific medical record request forms you can find on their website. When in doubt, call the office!

Two weeks before the appointment, call your gastroenterologist’s office to see if they can send you any new patient paperwork ahead of time, so you don’t have to fill out the paperwork in the waiting room before your appointment. Just remember to bring all the forms with you if you complete them ahead of time! When you call the office, you can also ask if there are any tests you can complete before your appointment or any tests you should prepare for during your appointment. Some gastroenterological tests require a special diet or a period of fasting, so you might be able to have these tests done the same day as your appointment if you go in prepared.

3. Keep track of your symptoms 

In the week or two before your appointment, gather all the notes you’ve been keeping on your symptoms in one place. If you haven’t been keeping notes about your symptoms, two weeks before your appointment is a great time to start! It can also be helpful to list your symptoms in order of priority to you. This list of symptoms should also include those you may not think are relevant. You never know what could be the final piece of the puzzle!

Because you’re seeing a gastroenterologist, it’s also important to keep a log of your bathroom habits, what you eat and when, and how the different food and drinks you consume affect you.

4. Gather your notes, questions, and goals

In the week or two leading up to your appointment, we recommend creating a one-pager for your new provider. If you don’t know what information to include, here are a few ideas: 

  • the medications you’re currently taking(including any vitamins and over-the-counter supplements),
  • any allergies you may have
  • other diagnoses you’ve been given (not just those related to your digestive health)
  • previous surgeries or other procedures
  • symptoms you’re experiencing and how long you’ve had them. 

Additionally, this one-pager is a great place to list any questions you have for the gastroenterologist that you want to make sure they address. While it’s important for you to have a list of all of your questions, prioritizing one or two of them on this sheet can help keep your appointment on track and make the most use of the limited time you’ll have with your doctor.

Reflect on any goals you may have for the appointment and jot down anything you feel will be important to remind yourself of during your appointment. Do you want to explore a certain diagnosis? Are you curious about a specific medication? Is there a test you think would be beneficial? If you don’t have any specific goals, that’s fine too!

5. What to bring to the appointment

In addition to any paperwork you may have been asked to complete before your appointment, make sure to bring several copies of the one-pager you prepared, any medical records and test results you weren’t able to have sent to the office ahead of time, your list of questions and goals, and a notebook and pen, or a note taking app on your phone.

Wear something comfortable for your appointment. The gastroenterologist will likely have to palpate your digestive tract and other organs, so it’d be helpful to wear loose clothing you’ll be comfortable wearing while on the exam table.

If you’d feel more comfortable having someone there to support you — or even serve as your advocate — during your appointment, bring a trusted friend, partner, relative, or anyone else you’d like to accompany you. Sometimes it’s hard to retain all the information a doctor shares with you, so it’s helpful to have someone there who may be less nervous and better able to take notes or hold on to information at that time.

A note from The Mighty: Going to the gastroenterologist for the first time might seem intimidating, but by giving yourself plenty of time to prepare, you’ll have a smoother experience and will hopefully save yourself some stress when the day of your appointment arrives.

Originally published: March 14, 2023
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