By Sarah A LoBisco, ND

Do you ever feel like you’re in a medical salad spinner? Being tossed around from doctor to doctor, spinning in circles, cycling to the next specialist, practitioner, or alternative treatment provider in order to find a diagnosis to why you feel so lousy? You may be one of the unfortunate “middle roaders”, who feels sick enough to feel bad yet not have a diagnostic label as to why. Or, you may be someone just sick and tired of being sick and tired, yet haven’t found lasting relief.
I see these scenarios every day in my practice. Some clients will come into my office expressing that they feel like going to various health care professionals is a part time job! As if the tasks at home, work, school, and “fun time” aren’t enough, now there’s the endless errands and doctor visits filling up our much needed down time. We divide not only our time into nicely allotted slots, but also our bodies. “Well, Joey, I got the liver doc on Tuesday, and the male doc on Wednesday, then I gotta squeeze in my heart on Friday.” That’s all and well, we need specialists, for follow up and occasional necessity. But what about when visits to physicians are an everyday event related to being squished and whished about?
In med school, there existed the term “doctor hopper.” It can be a derogatory term used for someone who expresses a desire to be well, but seems to get stuck in sickness patterns, even after seeing more than a handful of competent physicians or practitioners. It’s true that sometimes people may get comfortable in their own un-comfort, because it’s familiar. Some may even resist health. These people may have built their identity and relationships around their health care woes. However, with growth, it’s normal to have some resistance.
In this case, it can become the doctor’s issue if they don’t recognize that change can hurt. In health, not only are there physical setbacks, there exists emotional ones as well. Think of child who progresses from crawling to walking. It’s scarier and more of a risk to stand in your power and be on your own. It may feel safer to be held, and stay low. Still, the feeling of independence and freedom, the ability to engage in new experiences are the payback, which makes the emotional outburst and tears an accepted necessity to get back up and move forward. Who wants to stay on the ground, anyway? There really is a whole, bigger world to explore. It’s the job of the physician to help this transition, to aid the patient so they feel comfortable with this natural progression, and to assist with patching up the knee when one falls.
However, the practitioner must walk a fine line between wanting more and doing more for the patient verses empowering the patient and taking off the training wheels. There’s a different concept in health and wellness verses disease and symptom control; in Naturopathic and Functional medicine there are no magic pills, potions, and symptom suppressers. There’s lifestyle adjustments, removing obstacles to cure, and giving the body what it needs to heal. It’s a process with profound results; however, it’s a different approach than a pill for every ill. It’s less sexy, snazzy, and more work for the patient, but it’s also less expensive and can provide hope and answers to the patient as a participant rather than a passive, submissive observer.
I think we need to take accountability that part of it is in the business of medicine. Physicians are paid by the ICD9 code, meaning if it’s not labeled or can’t be suppressed, it doesn’t exist. Therefore, patients are shuffled about with “normal” labs and put onto a prescription of a watch and wait period until they actually get to the point where their biochemistry shifts into abnormal pathology.
As Dr. Rountree put it, in a panel discussion at the Urban Zen Center in NYC, “Do you really want to be part of that team?” Meaning, is getting the label of MS, Cancer, or Fibromyalgia really going to serve you more than treating the cause of the symptoms? Do you really want to wait until your body is so imbalanced it gets a diagnosis, because once it gets there, it’s harder to rebalance, not impossible, but more work. One study showed that antibodies were present in SLE patients almost 10 years prior to diagnosis! Do you realize how much could be done in those 10 years!
I think that the term “doctor hopper” is overused by physicians who are trying to not feel so lousy about themselves when they have failed to help someone. For these people, many physicians or practitioners may simply view these patients as nuances. As a Naturopathic and Functional medicine practitioner, I look at the whole person. It’s our societal expectations of sickness that may in fact contribute to why one’s  biochemistry continues to be “abnormal”. 
So, what’s the solution? How can we transform the hoppers from a part time job to a manageable cohesive health care plan with team players working together like a well-oiled machine? My job is to help trade in this fragmented approach to an integrated health care collaboration. I view myself as a bridge that supplements conventional approaches by supplying the body with holistic nutrition and pharmaceutical grade supplements, mind-body techniques, and lifestyle consulting. No one is replaced, but the disjointed pieces are put together.


Bland, Jeffrey, Video from Dr. Bland’s panel discussion at Urban Zen in NYC with Dr. Frank Lipman, Dr. Mark Hyman, and Dr. Bob Rountree. Synthesis Staff. Posted date: 03/08/2011

Lundh C, Segesten K, Björkelund C. To be a helpless helpoholic–GPs’ experiences of women patients with non-specific muscular pain. Scand J Prim Health Care. 2004 Dec;22(4):244-7.

Marcelle Pick, OB-GYN N.P. Hitting the ‘Pause’ Button Is Good for Your Health. Huffington Post. 3/19/2011.

Arbuckle MR, James JA, Kohlhase KF, Rubertone MV, Dennis GJ, Harley JB.Development of anti-dsDNA autoantibodies prior to clinical diagnosis of systemic lupus erythematosus.(abstract) Scand J Immunol. 2001 Jul-Aug;54(1-2):211-9.

Mercola, J. Half of Americans Use Supplements.Posted April 28, 2011.

Hay House Author Book Resources:

Robert Holden. Be Happy.

Michael Neil. Effortless Success.