Doctor shopping: What to look for, how to prevent it

Female doctor shoppers share four common characteristics, according to a new study published in the Western Journal of Nursing Research that identified steps to foil them.

"Doctor shopping" is a behavior of drug seekers who visit emergency rooms and prescribing providers--including doctors, dentists and nurse practitioners--to get multiple prescriptions for controlled drugs either for themselves or to sell to others. Research reveals women are more likely to doctor shop than men, according to a Rush University Medical Center announcement.

Four themes emerged from the interview-based research findings:

  1. Feeding addictions drove participants to doctor shop.
  2. Participants networked with other addicts, sharing information about where and how to doctor shop and which pharmacies were apt to fill their prescriptions.  
  3. Participants found sophisticated ways to avoid detection, including sharing diagnostic imaging results, altering urine samples and frequenting different pharmacies.
  4. Participants fooled providers into writing prescriptions by faking symptoms, hiding prescription histories and exaggerating anxiety or pain symptoms. One participant was so desperate for drugs she underwent painful elective surgeries, the study found.    

Drug abusers also may solicit police reports for stolen property, including narcotics, with the intention of using the reports to confirm theft, Law Enforcement Today reported. This can cause doctors and pharmacists to replace, renew or refill prescriptions inappropriately.

Besides creating legal risks for prescribing practitioners--especially pain management specialists--doctor shopping causes financial loss for health insurance programs.

The study recommended steps to curb doctor shopping, such as checking prescription drug monitoring program data and using pain contracts to reduce opioid abuse risks. Researchers called for more reliable ways to confirm patients' identities and insurance coverage. Further, payers should track patients who regularly travel out of town to visit prescribers or fill prescriptions for controlled substances. And providers should receive training on how to spot and manage abusers who present themselves for care, the announcement stated.

For more:
- here's the Rush University Medical Center study announcement
- read the study abstract from the Western Journal of Nursing Research
- see the Law Enforcement Today article

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