Dr. William Chey – Applying a Holistic, Integrated Care Model to GI Diseases

September 24, 2020

William Chey, MD, Nostrant Professor of Gastroenterology, Professor of Internal Medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, and Professor of Nutritional Sciences in the School of Public Health, is a gastroenterologist who provides patient care for a wide variety of disorders and diseases affecting the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Dr. Chey also serves as the Director of the GI Physiology Laboratory, Director of the Digestive Disorders Nutrition & Behavioral Health Program, and Medical Director of the Michigan Bowel Control Program, one of the largest multi-disciplinary pelvic floor groups in the U.S.

Dr. Chey’s research work is centered on the diagnosis and treatment of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), constipation, fecal incontinence, and H. pylori infection, with a specific interest in how nutrition and lifestyle play a part in these and other GI diseases.

Dr. Chey has received multiple awards for clinical service and medical innovation. In 2014, Dr. Chey was inducted into the Department of Internal Medicine Clinical Excellence Society, and in 2019, he was honored with the Dean’s Award for Innovation and Commercialization, which recognizes a faculty member or group of faculty members who have developed a new research method, technology, or innovative service that will radically improve or transform patient health.

Behind the Scenes with Dr. William Chey

Dr. William Chey

What is your research about?

My research focuses on functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs) including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), constipation, and fecal incontinence, in addition to H. pylori infection. I am especially interested in how food, stress, and mental and physical health affect a patient’s symptoms and outcomes. I lead a research team that is dedicated to developing evidence-based, life-changing nutritional and behavioral solutions to positively impact patients' lives. The team’s main goals include:

  • Creating and/or validating more holistic management models that incorporate not only medications, but also diet, behavioral, and complementary/alternative strategies.
  • Accelerating the evolution of clinical care from the current model, which relies almost exclusively on symptoms to choose a treatment for a patient, to a “precision medicine” model in which the choice of therapy will be based on symptoms combined with biomarkers, which will utilize genetics, microbiome, and metabolomics.

Dr. Chey’s research team conducted the first randomized clinical trial evaluating the low FODMAP diet for patients with IBS in the U.S.: "A Randomized Controlled Trial Comparing the Low FODMAP Diet vs. Modified NICE Guidelines in U.S. Adults with IBS-D".

Dr. Chey has published 595 articles and scientific abstracts. One of his latest publications looks at "Integrated Care for Disorders of Gut-Brain Interaction", which was published in The Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology.

Why does this area of research appeal to you and what are your goals?

Patients who have these conditions often experience a significantly reduced quality of life and work productivity. The collective goals of our activities are to improve the lives of patients with digestive disorders through the development and validation of novel diagnostic and treatment strategies. Additionally, FGIDs lead to billions of dollars in health care expenditures on an annual basis. If we can help patients improve their diet and health, thereby reducing or eliminating their symptoms, we can potentially lower this financial burden.

Dr. Chey is also the Director of the Food for Life Kitchen, designed to handle cooking demonstrations, lectures, and hands-on learning to help patients incorporate evidence-based tools and strategies into their daily lives. 

Why did you decide to become a gastroenterologist?

Almost everyone has experienced GI issues at some point in their lives and when symptoms occur, they can profoundly impact upon one's ability to function, both physically and emotionally. The field of gastroenterology is the ultimate admixture of environment, mind, and body. We now have effective tools which address each of these domains. 

It is extremely rewarding to have a follow-up visit with a patient who has been struggling with gut symptoms for months or even years, and have them tell me that their symptoms are better and they feel like a new person. It is also gratifying to know that a patient trusts me enough to speak about topics that they wouldn't discuss with anyone else. Making the embarrassing not embarrassing is comforting to patients with these types of symptoms. The opportunity to make that personal connection with my patients is one of the key factors in my choosing a career in gastroenterology.

What are your favorite parts of your job?

Listening to my patients to better understand what needs to be fixed and identifying novel, holistic, and more effective solutions that make a marked difference in their lives. Our group’s motto is “lead not follow” - to create solutions that work, rather than copying the same old recommendations that don’t.

I also enjoy speaking and providing education about treatment and management strategies. 

Listen to Dr. Chey talk about healing IBS with diet on The Dr. Nandi Show.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering specializing in gastroenterology?

I would highly encourage anyone who might be interested in it. The field is vast and the opportunities are almost endless as to what you can focus on. As gastroenterologists, we get to treat an immense amount of different organs in the body, which makes diagnosing and treating patients both challenging and rewarding.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Our group at Michigan Medicine was way ahead of the curve in terms of recognizing the critical role of diet and nutrition in the care of patients with digestive disorders. We started our outpatient GI nutrition program in 2007 – one of the first in the U.S. We were also one of the first major GI divisions to develop a fully integrated care model incorporating GI dietitians, GI psychologists, physical therapists, and nurse specialists working side by side with gastroenterologists. Our integrated care model has been emulated at an ever-growing number of centers across the nation.

Learn more about the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology GI Behavioral Health Program and GI Nutrition Therapy Program. 

Who has inspired you the most?

There are many who have inspired me over the course of my life. Perhaps the most influential person has been my father who has always set a very high bar. When I was young, this was a constant source of frustration. However, over time, I came to realize how foundational his high expectations were to shaping the qualities I strive to achieve: optimism, enthusiasm, hard work, persistence, and vision.

More about Dr. Chey…

You can find all of his publications and read more about his research at Michigan Research Experts.

You can keep up with what he's doing on twitter @umfoodoc.