Choosing a doctor or hospital is an important decision, so it's wise to arm yourself with as much information as possible. Not all physicians and health facilities are the same, and they don't all provide the same level of care. Mistakes happen, including errors that rise to the level of medical malpractice.
One thing you'll certainly want to do before picking a healthcare provider is figure out whether there have been any formal complaints made against the doctor or hospital you're considering. The purpose of this article is to spotlight a few key resources that can help you do a little research on medical professionals and health care facilities.
The Federation of State Medical Boards has compiled a database called DocInfo, which provides background data on almost one million licensed doctors in the U.S., including information regarding any disciplinary action taken against the provider.
Each state licenses its physicians. In turn, each state's board of medical licensure handles disciplinary matters. This can include suspension of the physician’s license to practice medicine, or permanent revocation of the physician’s license.
Many state licensing boards have websites you can access for free to determine whether the board has taken any disciplinary action against a particular physician.
If your state does not have a searchable website, you can contact the state licensing board directly. The Federation of State Medical Boards has compiled a list of contact information for each of the state medical boards. You can find it here: https://www.fsmb.org/contact-a-state-medical-board/
If you're concerned about whether to choose a particular hospital, your state’s department of health services is a good resource to turn to in order to investigate whether any formal complaints have been made against that facility. For example, reports of improper care or unsafe conditions are often reported to the state department of health services. These are issues you would certainly want to be aware of before selecting a hospital.
If someone has filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against a doctor in your state, there will be a record of it in the court where the case was filed. Many court records can be found online, although you will need to do a little preliminary research to figure out what kind of information is actually available online in your state.
At a minimum, you should be able to determine whether any lawsuits have been filed (past or present) against a particular physician. If the documents related to the lawsuit are not available online, you can usually go to the courthouse and pay for a copy of the record (provided the information you're looking for is not confidential).
Use caution when searching court records. Sometimes patients sue their doctor because they were offended by something like poor bedside manner. Courts typically “throw out” lawsuits like this because there is no medical malpractice to speak of. However, there is still a record of the doctor's being sued. Bottom line: Do not assume that merely because someone sued a doctor, that doctor committed some kind of medical error. Many good physicians have been sued by cranky patients, and many of those lawsuits have been dismissed as frivolous.
There are a number of potential complaints you may find against a doctor or hospital. Below are some of the most common:
There are organizations whose purpose is to rate the quality of physicians. One of these is the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA). This group gathers data about the quality of care that doctors provide to their patients. They use this information to grade the physician. If NCQA has evaluated the physician you are considering, you should be able to find a “grade” for that physician.
Some health insurance plans also provide information about physicians, such as their education, specialty, and work history. This information may be available on your insurance company’s website, or over the phone.
Choosing a doctor, or a hospital where you will have a procedure performed, is a big decision. Unless you are faced with an emergency (in which case you will probably have little if any time to make an informed choice), it is well worth the time to carefully investigate your options. You may not have the time to go through referral after referral to reach a consensus of the best possible physician available; but at a minimum, you should make sure you do not hire a physician with a track record of making mistakes.