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Communicating with patients with inflammatory bowel disease


  • Ali Husain MD,

    1. Department of Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA
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  • George Triadafilopoulos MD

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA
    2. Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA
    3. Gastroenterology Section, Palo Alto Veterans Affairs Health Care System, Palo Alto, CA
    • Professor of Medicine (Gastroenterology and Hepatology), Stanford University School of Medicine, Chief, Gastroenterology Section (111-GI), Palo Alto Veterans Affairs Health Care System, 3801 Miranda Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94304
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Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, the two main forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), are chronic illnesses that affect hundreds of thousands of Americans. Patients with IBD suffer chronically from diarrhea, abdominal pain, gastrointestinal bleeding, malabsorption, and weight loss requiring continuous medical and surgical attention. Despite recent advances in therapy, IBD follows a course of exacerbations and remissions with approximately 25–50% of patients relapsing annually. Hence, these diseases are readily encountered in primary care and gastroenterology clinics. Though medical and surgical treatment options have improved significantly, little has been written about the psychosocial aspects of IBD. Currently, there is a paucity of data concerning effective communication methods enabling physicians to develop stronger rapport with patients suffering from IBD, the care of whom requires a multidisciplinary approach involving primary care physicians, gastroenterologists, and colorectal surgeons. Because IBD has a high morbidity, it is worthwhile to further investigate those social factors that will improve patients' quality of life. In this paper, we summarize some of the common problems that emerge when taking care of patients with IBD and provide initial guidelines based on the world literature regarding the management and education of patients with IBD. Both primary care physicians and specialists (gastroenterologists, colorectal surgeons) need to be aware of the questions and concerns of IBD patients and to be capable of dispensing the information in a clear and concise manner. Using the case scenario format, we review the most common aspects of communication for health care professionals taking care of IBD patients and suggest ways to establish and maintain long-term doctor-patient relationships. The two most significant interventions that dramatically improve quality of life and patient-physician relationships are proper patient education and appropriate treatment of concurrent depression and anxiety. We hope that our review will form a framework by which different members of the medical team learn their roles in the complex management decisions affecting IBD patients.