Doctor shopping has bad press. On one level, rightly so. But for people dissatisfied with their current general practitioner, finding a new doctor can be vital for their health and well-being.

Some general practitioners, like many others in our society, lump older people together and act as if their older patients are all the same They seem to forget that, although our ageing bodies may need special consideration, we do not lose our individuality because we grow old.

Our culture as a whole doesn’t revere, or even respect, its seniors  the way some other cultures do, although many families do respect us.

Recognising ageism

Ageism occurs when people and institutions stereotype people, young and old, and discriminate against them on the basis of age.

Most older people understand and experience ageism in every day life. Young people, also, experience ageism when their ideas and needs are discounted because they are ‘too young’.

Obvious systemic ageism in health care occurs when doctors, nurses, accountants and journalists see old people  as ‘bed blockers’ who take up hospital beds to the detriment of younger patients, or as a ‘burden’ on the health system and the economy.

As individuals, we need to recognise ageism when a general practitioner over-medicates us, or dismisses our symptoms and test results on the grounds that ‘all old people experience this’. My experience tells me that some health professions tend to discount or dismiss older people. I can almost hear them think,

Oh, dear, another geriatric!

We should avoid a doctor who doesn’t listen carefully and respond adequately to our concerns.

Doctor shopping can be defined as

…seeing multiple treatment providers, either during a single illness episode or to procure prescription medications illicitly.

It can also mean going out deliberately to find a doctor one likes and trusts. That’s an important aspect of everyone’s health care, as well as a right.

Everyone needs a good doctor, and older men and women as much as everyone else. As the actor Katherine Hepburn supposedly said,

Old age is not for sissies.

As we age, we’re prone to aches and pains and chronic illnesses. Our hearing and our sight, smell and the sensation of our bodies in space begin to fail. Many serious illnesses, as well as minor ailments, cause us to seek medical attention.

Why doctor shopping has an important place in our health care

  • Everyone has the right to choose who provides their health care
  • We have a right to be heard and respected
  • Health care should be a partnership between health professionals and their patients
  • As patients, we have a right to be involved in our own care
  • We have a right to be consulted
  • We deserve explanations about health conditions and available treatment options
  • No one has to put up with poor service in any part of their life.

How to go doctor shopping

  • Remember you have every right to change doctors. It’s your call who cares for you
  • You don’t return to shops or restaurants where the service is shoddy or the staff are rude. Why would you put up with shoddy health care?
  • Make a list of what you want from a general practitioner and the practice where he or she works
  • Look for a new general practitioner when you are well. A minor ailment makes a good excuse to interview a new health care professional to see if they are a good fit for you
  • If necessary, take a friend or family member with you. Ask for their support. Ask them to help you assess the new doctor and to advocate for you if necessary
  • Be honest. Tell the GP want a new doctor. You don’t have to give a reason. If you want to, though, go for it. Explain why you want someone new and that you will no longer tolerate ageism in health care.
  • Ask about their charges. I went to one practice in Subiaco and was told their standard fee for a short consultation is $99! No concessions. No bulk billing. I went somewhere else.

*An updated version of a blog I posted a few years ago, but now no longer available online.

5 replies on “Doctor shopping to combat ageism”

    1. That is such a nuisance, Miriam, but it is worth-while finding someone suitable. Good luck with your search. I’m sure you’ll find a good doctor.

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