To describe the clinical characteristics of patients with doctor-shopping behavior (doctor-shopping patients) and users of alternative medicine among Japanese primary care patients, 1088 patients from the general medicine outpatient clinic of a medical school hospital answered an original questionaire and 30-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ). A random sample of patients was questioned in accordance with the Diagnostic Interview Schedule modified for use in Japan (DIS-JM). Twenty-three percent of these patients met our criteria for doctor-shopping patients, and 7.9% had used alternative medicine. Multivariate analysis showed no significant difference between the two groups of patients with regard to sex, age, residence, occupation, education, or marital status. The most striking characteristics of doctor-shopping patients were chronicity of illness (p < 0.005), inability to understand doctors' explanations (p < 0.005), disbelief of the doctor's diagnosis and treatment (p < 0.005), and high GHQ scores (p < 0.05). The major factor for alternative medicine users was high expectations of medical school hospitals (p < 0.01). DIS-JM interviews showed that doctor-shopping patients had a high lifetime prevalence of mental disorders. The lifetime prevalence of DSM-III somatization disorders was significantly higher in the two study groups. These results suggest that the risk factors for doctor shopping are strongly associated with chronic conditions and the doctor-patient relationship. Also, users of alternative medicine had high expectations of medical school hospitals as the symbol of modern medicine. Therefore, we emphasize the importance of accurate explanations and maintenance of good doctor-patient relationships by physicians providing care. We also suggest that when obtaining the patient's medical history, doctors ask how many prior visits the patient has made to medical facilities with the same complaint, and how many times the patient has used alternative medicine.
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