ANNUAL MANUAL- DR. HOOK- Stop hopping: Doctor shopping not a good plan

AARP Magazine named Charlottesville to be one of the top ten healthiest cities to live.  I believe it because there are 10 billion healthcare providers here! C'ville ranks 4th among US metropolitan areas in the number of doctors per capita. So if you are a shopper, C'ville is like northern Virginia's Tysons Galleria + NYC's 5th Avenue + LA's Rodeo Drive. Pretty soon Barbara Streisand will be singing "Color Me Barbara" at one of our hospitals instead of at Bergdorf Goodman.

   With so many doctors, can it be overwhelming to find the right one?

   A kid in a candy store can get sick on the sugar and cavities that will make the dentist in Little Shop of Horrors cry with glee. With so many good choices, though, it is hard to go wrong in C'ville. Yet there are quite a few people I hear about who don't choose a primary care physician. They go from urgent care center to urgent care center, and see their 18 different specialists. By the time they arrive in my office with a list of all the doctors they have seen, you could get a genealogist to draw them a family tree of doctors. "This is your 2nd doctor once removed."

   The problem with doctor shopping (meaning you see several or more of the same specialist for the same disease) is that you don't allow the one doctor to keep working on you to solve the problem.  Rome wasn't built in a day, and likely neither was your medical problem. For example, a person might have a problem with headaches. There are a slew of reasons for headaches. So diagnosis and treatment can take some work. So if a person dumps their 1st neurologist when their headache isn't "cured" after a month, they end up seeing a 2nd neurologist who has to start all over from scratch. If the headache isn't gone after another month, his person ends up seeing a 3rd, 4th, 5th neurologist. Now this person can end up taking more medicines than Michael Jackson ever took and ends up feeling the same or worse as well as very frustrated. (BTW, I am a huge fan of Michael and have listened to his music consistently for decades. May he rest in peace.)

   The doctor-patient relationship is a key element in good patient care. The more your doctor knows your "ins and outs", the better your doc can take care of you. I hate it when a patient doesn't follow up with me and then dumps a ton of vague information. "Dr. Hong, since I last saw you (3 years ago to be exact), I saw several ENTs (and don't know their names), a couple of cardiologists (actually 5 cardiologists), had 4 MRIs (no, 2 CT scan, 1 MRI, 5 ultrasounds, and a DEXA), had my gallbladder removed, and saw a plastic surgeon (you kind of look like Joan Rivers but not quite)."

   Also those who doctor shop usually think their previous doctors are dumb. They don't realize their doctor usually has a strategy. "If Plan A fails, that means it isn't such and such...though it is the #1 cause.  Then will try Plan B." However, if the patient doesn't return for Plan B, then the 2nd doctor gets to employ Plan B and then is heralded to be the better doctor.

   Now if you hate your doctor, your doctors moves, your doc retires or passes away, etc, you have plenty of other doctors to choose in C'ville.  It is like "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock", "In the room the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo." In general though, get to know your doctor so they get to know you. "Getting to know you, getting to know all about you." (The King and I)

Dr. Hook cracks a joke or two, but John Hong is a renowned physician with a local practice. E-mail him with your questions.