Building a Therapeutic Relationship for Better IBS Care
Last updated: June 2023
When you are living with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), visits with healthcare providers can take up a lot of your time and energy. Because there is no definitive test for IBS, it is important for your doctor to take a complete medical history and rule out other conditions. But once you have your diagnosis of IBS, what happens next?
An important part of managing symptoms and feeling satisfied with the care you are receiving is building a strong therapeutic relationship with your healthcare providers. A therapeutic relationship is founded on trust, respect, safety, acceptance, empathy, and collaboration. It can dictate the types of interactions you will have with your healthcare provider, so it is important to work on it from the beginning.1
Developing a strong therapeutic relationship with healthcare providers has many benefits, including:1
- Increased patient satisfaction
- Improved adherence to treatment
- Improved quality of life
- Reduced levels of anxiety and depression
- Reduced health care costs
There are several strategies you can use to strengthen the relationship between you and your healthcare team. Below, I review 3 of those strategies.
Come to your appointments prepared
IBS is a complex illness, so come to your appointments prepared to ask questions. Here are a few questions to get you started:2,3
- Why are you confident that IBS is the correct diagnosis?
- How can I tell the difference between my IBS symptoms and other illnesses?
- Should I be tested for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)? Rates of SIBO are higher in people with IBS than in the general population. Since SIBO has many of the same symptoms as IBS, it may be worth testing for it if other IBS management strategies have not worked.
- Should I be tested for bile acid malabsorption? Like SIBO, bile acid malabsorption shares many of the same symptoms as IBS. In fact, over one quarter of people with IBS-D are thought to have bile acid malabsorption.
You might also find it useful to take notes during your appointment. That way, you can keep track of everything that was discussed. You can then come back to it if you ever have questions or concerns in the future.
Be honest with your healthcare team
Unfortunately, talking about bowel habits is somewhat taboo in our culture. But this is not a reason to hold things back from your care team. Healthcare providers can only provide the best care when they have all the information about the problems you are experiencing. So, explain your symptoms in as much detail as possible.
There is no need to feel embarrassed or worry that your care team will judge you when you describe your symptoms or struggles. Trust me, as a healthcare provider, I have heard it all!
Be sure that you understand your care plan
Since IBS is a complex illness, there are many different treatment options. For the best chance of symptom relief, make sure you understand how your treatment options and care plans work.
For example, if you have been instructed to follow the low FODMAP diet, do you understand everything that involves? If you are not sure about something, do not be afraid to speak up. Your healthcare team is there to support you, but they can’t do that if you don’t let them know when something does not make sense.
If your treatment plan does not sound doable, tell them. After all, a treatment plan will only have a chance of working if you are fully on board with it.
The best healthcare relationships involve working as a team to determine how you can reach your health goals. Building a strong therapeutic relationship with your healthcare team is key for ensuring you receive the best care possible. By coming to your appointments prepared with questions, being honest with your doctors, and understanding your care plan, you can build trust and develop a treatment plan that works for you.
Which of the following symptoms of IBS do you experience most frequently?