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Are You a Doctor-Hopper?

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Updated August 03, 2006

Are You a Doctor-Hopper?
When you're not satisfied with the medical treatment you're getting, it's becoming more common for friends, colleagues -- and yes, patient advocates like me -- to tell you that the first step is to find a new doctor. Particularly when we're dealing with thyroid, autoimmune and hormonal imbalances -- which can be tricky, time-consuming conditions to diagnose and treat -- getting rid of a cookie-cutter, by-the-books doctor is often the critical first step toward feeling well. (Read 10 Signs that You Need a New Doctor).

And it's true. Often, a new doctor is just what you need to get back on track. A doctor who refuses to explore options with you, or is wedded to one drug or one treatment approach, or who has written off your persistent physical symptoms as "mental" problems is a doctor better left behind.

But in the search for the next best thing as far as practitioners, can you take your doctor-hopping too far?

I know a number of thyroid patients who haven't been able to get rid of some persistent symptoms despite diagnosis and treatment. Some of them have seen a constant stream of practitioners in recent years, going from herbalists, to osteopaths, to Traditional Chinese Medicine experts, to endocrinologists, to hormone specialists. These patients spend hundreds of dollars for consultations, often traveling near and far, sometimes going as far as across the country, or to other countries, to see experts in various health conditions.

I actually know some patients who have seen upwards of 15 different practitioners just in the past 2 years specifically because they're not losing weight on their current thyroid treatment approach, or because they can't figure out what will help their thinning hair.

Each time, they try the latest expert's recommendations, a process that often requires a battery of costly tests, and a new regimen of drugs and/or expensive supplements and other treatments. Within a few months, however, if they haven't seen noticeable and dramatic improvements, they're off in search of the next expert.

Confusing the issue is the fact that these patients sometimes are following different regimens at the same time, without letting the different practitioners know. They may be seeing an endocrinologist, but at the same time, trying various herbs and supplements, AND taking some things they got at the health food store on their own.

They're looking for quick answers, and immediate gratification, and when they don't get it, they quickly start with the next practitioner, often without even giving any new treatment or approach time to work.

I've been guilty of doing this myself in the past. I think the main cause is impatience. It's no fun to suffer continued symptoms, and if a practitioner sounds promising, the temptation to think that this or that expert will finally have the answer you need is great.

I'm not suggesting that if you choose a new practitioner and quickly realize that this is not the right practitioner for you that you shouldn't move on, and quickly. But that is different than serial doctor-hopping. Serial doctor-hopping may not be good for your health, and here's why:

4. Getting well can take time.

If you are on to the next practitioner every several months, you are not giving any of them enough time to actually work with you, see how your body responds, refine the recommendations, and work with you. In today's instant gratification world, we have come to expect that we can lose 20 pounds, regrow our lost hair, and get back all our energy in four weeks. We think that the new pill, herb or vitamin will change our life in 10 days. Unfortunately, it takes a long time for the thyroid, metabolism, and immune system to become dysfunctional, and it can take a long time, not to mention a trial and error period, to start seeing positive results of changes we make.

3. Lack of coordination.

The endocrinologist may have you on one approach, the herbalist another, and a naturopath a third, but if you aren't clear on what everyone is doing, and if they all are not aware of each other and the treatments, you could end up doing things that cancel each other our, or, worse yet, worsen your health.

2. Doctor-hopping is hard on your pocketbook.

Most of us don't have insurance that will cover more than the basic services and drugs, and so when you're doctor-hopping, most of the cost will likely be out of your pocket. Practitioners may ask for the same tests, and insist that you have them done at their preferred labs or testing services, and insist that you get their recommended medications, herbs or supplements. You can end up paying for the same things over and over.

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