Telehealth 101 for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Telehealth has become the new norm. With the continuation of the pandemic, health professionals have adapted their practices to help their patients or clients through a virtual experience. While millennials may know the ins and outs of video conferencing, the less technologically savvy individuals may feel overwhelmed by the whole process. Sometimes, telehealth may also leave you with more questions than answers. Here is how to make the most of your virtual experience and maximize your health potential from the comfort of your own home.

Adjusting to the virtual experience

For some, the idea of telehealth may be anxiety-provoking and leave you wondering if it’s “as good as the real thing.” For others, the idea of having one less place to run around to is a blessing in disguise. Nevertheless, this transition has been an adjustment for everyone. Whether you are sitting in an office or communicating through a screen, the health professional can still view your body language and listen to your symptoms and health concerns. Simply put, telehealth is still the real deal.

Who to see?

While you may be happy to skip the waiting rooms and the usually outdated magazines, it’s no time to fall behind on annual appointments or regularly scheduled lab work. It takes teamwork to make the dream work, or in this case, your digestive tract. So, continue your regular checkups with physicians or dietitians to best manage your IBS symptoms.

Come prepared with medications and more

Health professionals are busy bees…too busy. In 2007, the average doctor’s visit was around 15 minutes.1 Much like everything else, it has arguably only gotten more fast-paced with time—ultimately leaving minimal minutes for discussion. If you have been experiencing symptoms of any kind, be prepared for your visit. Doctors may be able to improve our physical health, but they are not mind-readers. Kick off your visit on a positive note and set the stage for success by saying, "I'm so glad we can solve this together. I really need to find a solution to this specific problem."

Here are a few steps to get your visit organized:

Document IBS lifestyle habits

In the 2 or 3 weeks leading up to your appointment, start logging your lifestyle habits. Create a food symptom journal and sleep log to possibly shed light on patterns that may be impacting your wellness. Check out what to include when tracking your habits.

Food symptom journal: include date and time of meals, foods (types, portion, and beverage), activity (where you were when eating), symptoms (and what you were doing before and during symptom), stress level (low, medium, high) and bowel movement type.
Sleep log: write the date, time you woke up, total hours slept, nap, energy levels (low, medium, high), and bedtime.

Bring a printed copy to your next physician appointment and be ready to share verbally. For dietitians, many apps allow you to share your food and symptoms data directly with your caretaker. Talk about convenience!

Clearly define your discomfort, pain, and concern

Rather than pointing to where it hurts, write it out! Disclose the "what" and the "when" to give your health provider the full scoop. Having trouble narrowing down the location of the pain? Imagine your core as 4 quadrants, right upper, left upper, right lower, left lower. Then, be sure to answer the questions your doctor is asking before moving on to your next question.

Most importantly, note the frequency of symptoms. For example, if you are burping or excessively gassy, define what this means for you. Is it through eating, after a meal, or all day? If your symptoms are causing you distress, it is worth addressing! Do not downplay or ignore the discomfort that’s preventing you from living your best life.

Do certain habits help or worsen symptoms? Ask your doctor if there are nutritional or lifestyle steps that you can take before trying medication. Pills and powders are often the default plan of attack but often not necessary.

Help your health provider listen better

Some of my clients leave physician appointments frustrated, expressing that their doctor leads with the answer or asks a closed-ended question. For instance, a physician may respond, "The pain only happens when eating." But having your daily diary allows YOU to tell the story of a typical day, giving the physician a full picture. Do not be afraid to speak up or ask for more time if needed! If your doctor is not listening to you, prompt him/her to tune in by saying, "I would like to recap what I'm experiencing to make sure I'm communicating effectively." Then, pause, listen to his response, and ask, is there anything that has helped other patients.

If there are unresolved questions, schedule a follow-up before leaving or consider pursuing a different specialist or dietitian. Meeting with health professionals should answer your questions, not leave you with more.

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