What Is Doctor Shopping?

Jennifer Long

Doctor shopping is the act of visiting multiple doctors without providing information about prior treatments. This act does not occur if a patient decides to change doctors, has several doctors for specific problems that all communicate together for treatment, or decides to get another opinion about a diagnosis. Having multiple doctors without just cause is often done by people who suffer from a drug addiction and are looking for doctors to prescribe those drugs. When people intentionally shop around for doctors and take advantage of services, the health care industry and patients suffer because costs increase and the medical community has to be stricter about patient care.

People with addiction problems often engage in doctor shopping for the accumulation of drugs.
People with addiction problems often engage in doctor shopping for the accumulation of drugs.

In the United States and many other countries, doctor shopping is a common part of the drug culture and illegal sale of prescription medications. For this reason, many countries have made it illegal and a federal offense to jump around to multiple doctors without needing specialized care for illnesses and diseases. The same laws apply to hospital emergency rooms as well.

Having multiple doctors without just cause is considered doctor shopping.
Having multiple doctors without just cause is considered doctor shopping.

Other than helping to fuel the sale of illegal prescription drugs, doctor shopping also has a negative impact on health care. Doctors have to be very particular about patient care. Previously, doctors could diagnose and treat medical conditions with minimal testing and less cost. Due to the volume of people who jump around to multiple doctors, more tests are often performed, which raises the costs of operation for doctors and increases the amounts billed to patients for care. Additionally, it becomes a longer process to progress from diagnosis to treatment.

Many governments are adding laws that determine doctor shopping penalties. These laws and penalties vary among countries and states, but the end goal of reducing this crime is the same. Penalties vary depending on a person’s reasoning for having multiple doctors and prescriptions as well as criminal history. If prosecuted and found guilty, a person can face time in jail. In many cases, a guilty party is also expected to pay fines associated with the crime.

Preventing doctor shopping can be a difficult task. Particularly with the drug culture, people are known for crossing state and country borders to get prescription medications they are after. It is difficult to catch these people because they use free or income-based clinics and pay cash for prescriptions, giving false identity information whenever necessary.

Doctor shopping prevention can be effective only when laws are enforced and doctors are educated. Many doctors are required to attend some form of classes that teach medical professionals what to look for. Doctors are also strongly encouraged to take a more serious approach to medication-prescribing practices. Instead of quickly writing out prescriptions a patient asks for, particularly those that are addictive and in high demand on the streets, alternatives treatments should be considered.

Doctor shopping fuels the sale of illegal prescription drugs.
Doctor shopping fuels the sale of illegal prescription drugs.

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Discussion Comments


@Fa5t3r - When you consider that these drugs used to be (and often still are) routinely prescribed to patients who had only seen a particular doctor once (which is why doctor shopping is a successful strategy in the first place) you can see the danger of legalizing these kinds of drugs for recreational use.

People who were vulnerable to addiction (and it does likely have a very high genetic component) would only have to go to the doctor once with a sprained ankle to end up with a life-long addiction.

I don't think the system we have at the moment is anywhere near perfect, but I absolutely don't think the answer lies in legalizing them.

I do think that addiction should be treated more like a disease and less like a crime, but only because that has seemed to work far more effectively to reduce numbers in other countries.


@clintflint - I'm not sure it would though. These drugs are often highly addictive and given out to genuine patients because they are the only reasonable source of pain relief. I think making them legal would result in a huge spike of addicts in a way that making street drugs illegal wouldn't. At least now doctors have a legal recourse to deny people addictive drugs. And people can trust that their doctor is going to do their best not to get them addicted to something.


The problem is that most of the time these patients are either pretending to have chronic pain or actually do have chronic pain and that's a terrible burden to leave on someone. You don't want to be the doctor that refused to give drugs to a person in genuine distress because you thought they might have been a drug-seeker.

I've got to say that I lean towards the option of just making it legal for people to have access to this kind of drug. They don't make people act violently and they don't harm anyone except the person taking them (as long as they aren't driving). It would take a lot of pressure off doctors if this was legal.

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