Hepatologists are doctors that treat diseases and conditions of the liver and diseases of other gastrointestinal organs related to the liver like the gallbladder, pancreas and bile ducts. The liver is a vital organ in the body that can be affected by a number of different conditions. Hepatologists assess and diagnose patients, but do not always provide the full treatment.
To become a hepatologist, students must go to medical school and graduate with either a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or a Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.) degree. Hepatology is considered a specialty field of medicine, so doctors will need to further specialize through residencies and fellowship programs
Most hepatologists will complete a 2-4 year residency program in internal medicine to gain a broad base of knowledge and skill in treating a variety of medical conditions.
After residency, hepatologists will be required to further specialize specifically in hepatology, though often these programs are combined with gastroenterology. Fellowship programs offer 1-3 years of specialty training to give hepatologists a foundation in pathophysiology, management of diseases, and clinical manifestations.
Hepatologists, like all doctors, are required to have a medical license to practice medicine in any state in the country. Medical licenses are controlled by individual states, so requirements will change in each state. These licenses will allow doctors to practice any type of medicine in the state, but do not establish any expertise in one field of medicine.
To demonstrate expertise, doctors become board certified through specialized medical boards. Hepatologists require two board certifications: one in internal medicine through the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM), and one in hepatology also through the ABIM.
Hepatologists are required to maintain board certification by taking continued education classes, maintaining professional standards, and eventually by retaking the qualifying exams.
Where Hepatologists Work
Hepatologists' work often relies on a hospital setting, so these doctors may work in private or group practices associated with hospitals, or may even work directly for hospitals. Doctors trained as hepatologists may also work in research, clinical, or educational settings.
The average salary of a hepatologist is about $205,000.
How They Help People
Hepatologists help patients suffering from a variety of gastrointestinal conditions relating to the liver. Patients are usually referred to see a hepatologist by their primary care physician. Hepatology used to be connected to gastroenterology studies for doctors, but it is now becoming an independent field.
When a patient comes to see a hepatologist, the doctor will talk to the patient about their medical history to look for any risk factors, and will conduct a thorough physical examination.
Hepatologists often work as technicians and are the first step in a patient's specialty care. They will perform diagnostic tests, may diagnose a patient, and will perform some treatments, but patients may be referred to other specialty doctors for advanced treatments like liver transplant or cancer care.
Hepatitis A, B, C, and E are serious diseases that affect the liver. Millions of people around the world suffer from a form of hepatitis each year. Hepatologists will treat these diseases using medication, lifestyle changes (if, for instance, the disease is related to alcohol consumption), and through diagnosing and referring patients to another specialist like an oncologist.
Many people with serious liver conditions require liver transplants. Though hepatologists do not perform this procedure, they may care for patients before and after a liver transplant.
Other conditions a hepatologist treats may include:
- Liver cancer
- Drug overdose
- Liver diseases that are the result of alcohol abuse
- Genetic liver disease
- Brain disorders related to liver disease
- Mineral metabolism problems (like the over-absorption of iron)
- Swelling or fluid accumulation in the abdominal cavity
- Abdominal and gastrointestinal bleeding
- Inflammatory bowel disease
Hepatologists will perform procedures like:
- Endoscopic diagnostic surgeries to diagnose diseases of the bile ducts and pancreas
- Use special x-rays to detect obstructions in the bile ducts or liver
- Insert stunts to create a connection between hepatic veins
Since hepatologists often work with other doctors to treat the same condition in a patient, they hold the important responsibility of completing accurate diagnostic tests and clearly communicating the results of these tests to other doctors.
Medical Negligence and Hepatologists
Medical malpractice in hepatology is very serious for patients because of the nature of liver diseases that hepatologists treat.
The liver is one of the most important organs in the body. It processes everything we eat and drink and eliminates waste, breaks down fat, and produces energy. It also breaks down old and damaged blood cells and has a role in many metabolic processes in the body. Chemicals secreted by the liver are vital for many other bodily functions.
An estimated 40,000 Americans are diagnosed with liver cancer each year. It is the fifth most common cause of cancer death among men and the eighth most common cause of cancer death among women. To survive liver cancer doctors must catch the condition early, the five-year survival rate for liver cancer is only 17%. Hepatologists play a role in diagnosing liver cancer and referring specialists to oncologists (cancer doctors).
Hepatitis is another dangerous condition that hepatologists treat. As many as 5.3 million people in the United States are living with viral hepatitis. Hepatitis B, the most common liver infection in the world, affects 1 out of every 20 people in the United States and kills thousands of Americans each year. Hepatitis B is particularly dangerous because patients may not even know they have it, but it can easily spread through blood and bodily fluid. Hepatologists play an important role in diagnosing and treating patients with hepatitis.
Though hepatologists may not provide treatment for all of the conditions they can diagnose in patients, their most important roles are correctly diagnosing patients and then relaying all important medical information on to another doctor that will treat the patient. Failing to perform diagnostic tests, misreading diagnostic tests, or miscommunicating diagnostic tests can all harm patients.
Experienced Maryland Medical Malpractice Attorneys
If you or a loved one has suffered an injury while under the care of a hepatologist, you should talk with an experienced medical malpractice attorney.
The attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian have a track record of success in protecting the rights of malpractice victims across Maryland. Medical malpractice cases are often very complex. Gilman & Bedigian has a licensed physician on staff who will consult with attorneys about your case to locate any instances of malpractice.
Call our offices today at (800) 529-6162 to schedule a free consultation and to learn more about your legal options.