Very few of us like going to the doctor. But when we delay our healthcare visits, we risk worsening our symptoms or not detecting more serious conditions.
A few years ago, a study from the Journal of General Medicine compiled all the reasons patients don’t seek medical care — even when they think it’s necessary. Many say their symptoms eventually resolve, so why not just wait it out? Others say they don’t like being poked with needles or undergoing any form of procedure. But according to the study, the biggest reason people avoid seeking medical care has a lot to do with their doctor and the practice.
Patients who participated in the study say their doctors don’t follow up; make them feel “stupid;” don’t listen to what they’re trying to say; and “chews them out for not following medical advice.” When it comes to the office setting, patients also complain about long wait times, sitting in a crowded room, and not getting an appointment quickly.
So when Dr. Tara Troy opened up Comprehensive Gastrointestinal Health (CGH) in the Chicago area, she focused on creating a very different patient experience. Walk into her office and one feels like they’re coming in for a spa appointment. The walls are painted with calm and cool colors, fresh plants and flowers are visible, and the chairs are comfortable and relaxing. A charging station for mobile devices is provided and in another corner is a coffee and water station.
Patients are greeted warmly when they walk in the door. While the chairs are comfortable enough for extended sitting time, most people don’t get a chance to sit too long before they’re ushered in. The hallway is lined with a wall of food photos to make anyone’s mouth water. Most patient rooms are engulfed with light from large windows and the chairs and table seem like they belong in a home vs. a practice setting.
“Nobody wants to come to a doctor’s office, let alone a gastrointestinal office,” said Dr. Troy. “When I opened my practice, I decided to focus on making each visit a pleasant experience. It starts from when people reach out to our practice. We have staff members answering the phone so someone can speak to a human being. We decorated the office using soothing colors and surrounded the place with positive images.”
Dr. Troy says her approach to creating a patient-focused practice was the result of years of caring for GI patients in other settings and hearing about their responses to those settings. Prior to opening her practice, Dr. Troy worked at a larger setting and did her fellowship and residency at a university health system.
“Medicine can be very compartmentalized, making it difficult for patients to achieve a positive health outcome quickly,” she noted.
IBS patients often see multiple practitioners to manage their symptoms. Not only do they have a GI specialist, but they also see a dietitian/nutritionist, a social worker or psychologist and a nurse practitioner. Depending on the environment they work in, these healthcare professionals often don’t have the ability to easily talk with each other. As a result, patients often get mixed or confusing messages on how to better manage their condition, which leads to frustration and distrust.
“At CGH, all of our providers are in one setting,” she said. “We have a registered dietitian, a counselor who works on the treatments for not only IBS like cognitive behavioral therapy and gut-directed hypnotherapy, but also other things like coping mechanisms, mindfulness, and meditation. We have a nurse practitioner who's much more readily available to talk with patients when they're having issues and can offer same day or next day appointments.”
And unlike other practice groups, the team also meets weekly to discuss each case to create a collaborative treatment plan that best fits the patient.
The response from patients has been overwhelmingly positive, according to Dr. Troy. They tend to look forward to their visits and know practically every member of the CGH team. Compliance is high and patients have begun referring the practice to others.
While Dr. Troy’s office is unique, she says there are a growing number of GI specialists who are now paying more attention to how patients experience their practice. She believes that in time, they’ll be able to find a treatment team who can make them feel as best as they possibly can. But until that happens, people will need to be their own health advocate and proactively seek out healthcare providers that can give them a more cohesive treatment plan.
“Find the ones who can give you the latest and greatest information with a wealth of opportunities for improving your symptoms and make you feel as best as you possibly can be.”