Gastroenterologists, or GI doctors, are doctors who treat conditions of the digestive tract, also called the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. They treat conditions of the stomach, small and large intestine, esophagus, bile ducts, and liver. Common conditions that these gastroenterologists treat include ulcers, acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, and celiac disease.
Like all doctors, gastroenterologists are required to begin their professional path by graduating from medical school. After earning either a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or a Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.), doctors who want to study gastrointestinal issues will complete a residency program to further specialize in this field.
Once doctors have completed medical school, they will need to begin a residency program in their field of medicine. Gastroenterologists will complete a residency program in internal medicine to learn how to diagnose and treat a variety of internal medical conditions.
Gastroenterology is a specialty field of medicine, so after completing a general residency in internal medicine gastroenterologists are required to complete a 3-year fellowship program in gastroenterology. In their fellowship program doctors will gain experience in treating a variety of gastrointestinal diseases and learn how to provide treatment for chronic conditions.
To practice medicine in any state doctors are required to have a medical license. Medical licenses are controlled at the state level, so requirements will vary from state to state. A medical license allows doctors to practice any type of medicine within the state, but will not specify in which type of medicine the doctor has training.
Board certification is an optional, but highly regarded, certification doctors can earn to improve their professional outlook and to demonstrate their knowledge to potential patients. Gastroenterologists will need two board certifications: one in internal medicine through the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM), and another specifically in gastroenterology also from the ABIM.
Gastroenterologists are required to maintain their board certifications by taking continued education courses, maintaining a professional status, and eventually by retaking the examinations.
After completing a fellowship program gastroenterologists can choose to subspecialize in a field like gastrointestinal (GI) oncology, GI radiology, gastric medicine, and hepatobiliary.
Where Gastroenterologists Work
Gastroenterologists usually work out of private or group medical offices it outpatient settings. Gastroenterologists perform a variety of surgical treatments, so they may split their time between working out of an office and working out of a hospital. These doctors can also work in research, clinical, or educational settings.
How Gastroenterologists Help People
Gastroenterologists diagnose and treat conditions of the digestive system. These doctors are knowledgeable about how food moves through the body and is broken down, and will treat symptoms like heartburn, nausea, and abdominal pain.
Gastroenterologists are specialists, so patients are usually referred to them through a primary care physician.
Patients visit gastroenterologists for three main reasons:
- When they are experiencing new symptoms of digestive disorders (like diarrhea, esophageal pain, blood in their stool or tissue paper or heartburn)
- For sustained treatment for chronic digestive conditions like Cohn's disease or irritable bowel syndrome
- To receive a routine screening test like a colonoscopy to screen for colorectal cancer
Gastroenterologists will assess the patient's condition through a variety of diagnostic tests, and will provide treatments. Diagnostic tests that gastroenterologists perform include scans, x-rays, ultrasounds, and MRIs. They will also help patients prevent medical conditions when possible.
Other conditions gastroenterologists treat include:
- Gallbladder disease
- Celiac disease (an autoimmune disease that creates gluten intolerance)
Cancer screening is another important part of a gastroenterologist's job. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends regular screenings for patients over the age of 50. A colonoscopy is a diagnostic test for colon cancer that uses a camera attached to a long, flexible tube to look inside the colon. The ACS recommends colonoscopies every 5 years for average risk patients, and fecal and stool tests every year. Gastroenterologists will provide a wide array of gastrointestinal cancer screenings.
Medical Negligence and Gastroenterologists
Studies of closed gastroenterological malpractice cases have found the most common claims, in order, are:
- Errors in diagnosis
- Improper performance of a procedure
- Failure to supervise or monitor a case
- Medication error
- Communication error
Diagnosis errors often occur when a doctor misinterprets the patient's symptoms. Colorectal cancer is often misdiagnosed as hemorrhoids though often hemorrhoids signal the early stages of cancer. Giving a patient a wrong diagnosis or failing to diagnose a patient can have devastating consequences.
Improper performance of a procedure in gastroenterology is most often linked to procedures in the large intestine and procedures in the gallbladder and biliary tract. Doctors who improperly perform diagnostic procedures like colonoscopies or sigmoidoscopies can perforate the patient's bowel with a surgical instrument. A perforated bowel allows contaminated waste to spill into the abdominal cavity which can cause serious infections.
Similarly, doctors can accidentally perforate or nick parts of the gallbladder or biliary tract, cut the cystic duct and allow bile to spill into abdominal cavity, or fail to complete the surgical procedure.
Experienced Medical Malpractice Attorneys
If you or a loved one has suffered an injury while under treatment of a gastroenterologist, you may be entitled to compensation. Injuries or missed diagnoses of the gastrointestinal tract can quickly become life threatening to patients.
After a serious injury, you need an experienced medical malpractice attorney to review your case. Our offices have a licensed physician on staff who will help review your case for instances of malpractice.
Call Gilman & Bedigian at (800) 529-6162 today to begin your case and schedule a free consultation.