'Ask Your Doctor'

Find Out What Happens When<b> Andy Rooney </b>Follows That Prescription

A weekly commentary by CBS News correspondent Andy Rooney.

I've been pretty healthy most of my life, but even so, not many days go by when there isn't some question I have that I'd like to ask a doctor. The other day I was wondering whether it's OK to keep two different kind of pills in the same bottle.

On television the drug companies make it sound as if you could talk to your doctor anytime you wanted to, about anything.

Well, forget trying to call your doctor. We've all tried to do that.

The message I get is, "You have reached Internal Medicine Associates. Please make your selection from the following menu. If this is a serious medical emergency or you are a physician, press 0. To leave a non-urgent voice mail message for your doctor, press 2. Remember you can easier make or cancel an appointment by using our voicemail, press 5."

I understand, though. A busy doctor doesn't want to talk to you about whether you should take Plavix or Flonase. He's got sick people to take care of. He's got to make a living, too. There's no money in talking to you on the telephone.

All doctors must have some patients they'd like to get rid of because they bug them all the time with dumb questions.

Doctors aren't doing as well as they did just a few years ago because of HMOs -Health Maintenance Organizations. They have to see more patients to make a living. That gives them less time to have a friendly chat with you about Zocor.

I have someone I call "my doctor." He's good, but he really isn't mine. He probably has more than a thousand people who call him "my doctor".

The chances are the person you call "my doctor" doesn't fix what you have wrong with you anyway. I have this carpal tunnel problem now. You've probably heard of it. You can see my hand is swollen. I'm having surgery but "my doctor" doesn't do that kind of work. He really doesn't DO anything. He decides what's wrong and sends me to the doctor who fixes whatever it is.

Doctors have become too specialized. My hand surgeon is going to operate on my right hand. Well, this one needs it, too, and I'll probably have to get a left hand specialist to do that.

I like doctors, though. Not many bad ones. I trust all doctors except the ones who advertise in the Yellow Pages.

Things have changed for the worse for both doctors and patients though. Our relationship has gone to hell. It isn't their fault, it isn't ours. It's because of HMOs and because they have to spend more time on paperwork than on patients. What we need is more good doctors and fewer bad health plans.