Got HepB? Which doctor is right for you? Do you need a hepatologist, gastroenterologist (GI doctor), or an infectious disease doctor? Is the patient an adult or child? If you’re new to HBV, these specialty doctors are likely foreign to your doctor line-up, and weeding through the specialty titles and training can be confusing. However, if you have HBV, it’s essential that you find a knowledgeable liver specialist to monitor and potentially treat your hepatitis B.
A hepatologist is a doctor that specializes in diseases associated with the liver. Hepatology is a sub-specialty of gastroenterology. This is an obvious choice for patients with HBV, but it may be difficult to find a hepatologist in your vicinity.
A gastroenterologist, or GI doctor, specializes in the function and disorders of the GI tract, which includes the esophagus, stomach, pancreas, intestines and the liver. This covers a very broad spectrum of functions and diseases. The key is to find a GI doctor that has experience treating patients with liver disease – specifically, viral hepatitis, and hepatitis B. If your GI candidate spends much of his week performing endoscopies, he is likely not a good choice for a liver specialist.
Because hepatitis B is an infectious disease, it would seem logical that an infectious disease specialist would be the best choice. However, this is not usually the case with hepatitis B, or viral hepatitis, but rather HIV and other infectious diseases. Your best bet will most likely be a hepatologist or a GI doctor.
If the patient is a child, it is imperative that the child see a pediatric liver specialist. Some of the best and brightest, cutting edge doctors are both pediatric hepatologists and GI docs. Children with HBV are monitored and treated much differently than adults. The labs look different, and the treatment protocols also differ. You need a pediatric specialist.
Ultimately, the key is finding a liver specialist that has experience monitoring and treating patients with hepatitis B. You need to ask the important questions. How many patients are they currently monitoring and treating with hep B? How is your doctor keeping abreast of the latest and greatest advances in the management of hepatitis B? Does she attend conferences on viral hepatitis?
HBV is a chronic disease, so you are potentially entering into a long term relationship. Be sure to ask questions that are important to YOU. How are test results disseminated? Are frequent visits required? Is your doctor open minded – perhaps willing to consult with other experts treating patients with HBV? It would be great if this specialist is affiliated with a large hospital or university center. This may provide additional options such as clinical trials, should they become available. Plus they tend to have a larger patient population, hence more case specific experience.
Typically, the need to visit your liver specialist is not that frequent, unless you are undergoing treatment. Even then, much of the monitoring and follow-up are in the blood work, and much of that can be drawn locally, with the results sent to your liver specialist. Some treatment protocols require more monitoring and blood work than others, but even so, it is typically for a short period of time. This fact is significant, as it expands the size of your geographic circle of potential experts.
The Hepatitis B Foundation maintains a wonderful database of liver specialists for both adults and children. From there you can check out your potential expert with members of HBV support groups that may have personal experience with your candidate.
Good luck choosing your liver specialist!