Hepatitis C: Why See a Specialist?
Hepatitis C is a complex disease that affects everyone differently. Some patients don’t have any symptoms, while others may have severe liver damage that requires immediate treatment. That’s why all hepatitis C patients should follow the specific treatment plan tailored to their specific needs. But your primary care doctor may not have all the information you need to manage your hepatitis C successfully.
That’s where specialists come in: a hepatitis C specialist, called a hepatologist, has the right skills and insight to help you stay in control of your hepatitis C. Here’s why:
A hepatologist is a physician who specializes in treating diseases related to the liver. The liver is involved in many aspects of human health, so hepatologists must train extensively to master this area of study. Hepatology is a subspecialty of gastroenterology, the study and treatment of disorders that involve the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, colon and rectum, gallbladder, bile ducts, and liver. A hepatologist will have expertise in treating hepatitis C and other liver conditions, and may or may not be part of a gastroenterology practice.
All doctors complete a training program called a residency after they finish medical school. But hepatologists receive considerable training beyond that. Hepatologists spend several additional years in a fellowship, in which they train under experienced hepatologists and focus on patients with hepatitis C and liver issues. At the end of this period, a specialist is qualified to take an exam to become a board-certified hepatologist. Look for a doctor who is board certified in hepatology, and you’ll know you’re seeing an expert.
To maintain their board certification, hepatologists must keep up with new developments in their field. They must complete continuing education and renew their license every few years, depending on the state in which they practice and other factors. By following these requirements, board-certified hepatologists stay on top of new treatments and discoveries about the mechanisms involved in hepatitis C, so they can then provide their patients with insightful, informed, and up-to-date treatment plans. This is especially important for patients with hepatitis C, as the treatment options are much different today than in the past, and the virus can be cured with the right medication.
Hepatologists see a higher volume and concentration of patients with hepatitis C, and thus are more experienced in treating the condition successfully. Because they see lots of patients with hepatitis C, they can add real-world knowledge of the disease to their academic and clinical training. They’re able to assess how well patients respond to certain treatments, have a deeper understanding of how hepatitis C progresses over time, share insight about effectively implementing lifestyle changes, and recognize symptoms that a general practitioner may miss, among other skills.
Hepatologists work with teams of other health care providers who treat patients with hepatitis C and can connect patients with gastroenterologists, infectious disease specialists, nurse practitioners, therapists, and other experts in hepatitis C management. Working with a team can help patients address all aspects of the disease and ensure success.
There are thousands of hepatologists in the United States, so how do you know which is the right doctor for you? By searching on Healthgrades.com, you can identify the best hepatologist to help you manage your hepatitis C successfully.