Characteristics of doctor-shoppers: a systematic literature review

J Mark Access Health Policy. 2019 Mar 27;7(1):1595953. doi: 10.1080/20016689.2019.1595953. eCollection 2019.


Objective: Doctor-shopping has significant consequences for patients and payers and can indicate misuse of drugs, polypharmacy, less continuity of care, and increased medical expenses. This study reviewed the literature describing doctor-shoppers in the adult population. Methods: A systematic literature review was performed in PubMed and supplemented by a Google search of grey literature. Overall, 2885 records were identified; 43 papers served as a source of definition of a doctor-shopper, disease, treatment, patient characteristics, patient special needs, country. Results: Definitions of doctor-shopping were heterogeneous. Overall, 40% of studies examined the use of opioids, antidepressants, or psychoactive drugs, while the others focused on chronic or frequent diseases. Most studies were conducted in countries with easy access to healthcare resources (USA, France, Taiwan, Hong Kong). The prevalence of doctor-shopping ranged from 0.5% among opioid users in the USA to 25% of patients registered at general practices in Japan. Comorbidities, active substance abuse, greater distance from healthcare facility, younger age, longer disease and poor patient satisfaction increased doctor-shopping. Conclusions: Knowing the characteristics of doctor-shoppers may help identify such patients and reduce the associated waste of medical resources, but concerns about the misuse of drugs or healthcare resources should not prevent proper disease management.

Keywords: Doctor-shopping; doctor-shopper; drug abuse; drug misuse; healthcare utilization; physician switching; second opinion patients.