For most people, the diagnosis of Hepatitis C is given to them by their family physician. Because the management of Hepatitis C is critical, you will need to find a specialist who is well versed in the diagnosis and treatment of HCV. There are 3 kinds of doctors that typically treat patients with Hepatitis C. These doctors are Hepatologists (These doctors deal strictly with liver disease), Infectious Disease Specialists, and Gastroenterologists. Treating HCV is almost always too big of a task for your GP or Internist. Your family physician can guide you to doctors in the area that he or she is aware of that can help you with your Hepatitis C issues.
Here are some questions you can ask on the phone when you are calling for an appointment.
- Is the doctor accepting new patients?
- What is the wait time for a first appointment? How far in advance will I need to schedule additional appointments?
- Does the office accept your insurance? If you do not have insurance, what kinds of arrangements are they willing to make for payment?
- Will you be seeing the doctor or a physician assistant?
- Does the doctor have nurse practitioners to assist him? Are you able to speak with them when you need to?
- If the doctor does have a nurse practitioner, will they be handling all of your care or assisting the doctor. (You want this answer to be one of assistance and not handling all of your care.)
- Will you be seeing the doctor you choose every time or does the office have several doctors that rotate patients?
- What hospital is the doctor affiliated with? Does he do his own hospital visits or does the practice have a group that covers inpatients?
Okay, so now you have your appointment set up. Almost everyone comes back from visits to doctors saying 'I wish I had remembered to ask about...' So here are a few prompts. Sometimes it is better to just hand your doctor a list of questions and he can address each one for you. Don't be surprised if the doctor doesn't have every answer on the first visit. Some of these questions require lab work for an answer.
- Should I be vaccinated against hepatitis A and B?
- Would you suggest a liver biopsy?
- Do you advise treatment or long term monitoring?
- If we decide on treating my HCV, when should I start treatment?
- If we decide to start treatment, what can I do to prepare myself?
- Do I have any other conditions that will complicate my treatment?
- Is my liver cirrhotic? If so, is it bad enough to affect the outcome of treatment?
- If you are recommending treatment, how long will my treatment last?
- What side effects have you commonly seen with this treatment?
- Who do I contact if I have questions about side effects I may be experiencing? Do I contact you or do you have a treatment nurse?
- What approach will you take if and when I become anemic? Do you do blood transfusions? Do you use rescue drugs? Or a combination of both?
- If I am unable to work during treatment, will you complete the necessary paperwork?
- How often do I need to be seen?
- What tests do I need to take?
- Will these tests be repeated? How often?
- Do you automatically contact me with test results or is this something I need to stay on top of?
- Do you recommend that I make any changes in my everyday life either for treatment or living with Hepatitis C?
- Are there medications that I currently take that I need to discontinue? Are there medications (besides treatment meds) that you want to add?
This is a basic list, but a good starting point. At the very least, these questions will open up discussions between you and your new doctor. If you have additional questions and concerns, ask away. Just remember, the only dumb question is the one you didn't ask