Choosing a doctor, hospital or other health care provider is an important decision, so it's wise to arm yourself with as much information as possible. Here's what to know at the outset:
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 administrative and disciplinary matters involving these physicians. This can include:
Most state licensing boards have websites you can access for free to research a particular physician. Some boards go even further with their online tools. The Medical Board of California, for example, lets the public sign up to receive "License Alerts" that provide automatic updates when there are any changes to a particular physician's profile or status, or when any disciplinary/enforcement actions are taken against them.
The Federation of State Medical Boards has compiled a list of contact information for each of the state medical boards.
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. Find information on the department of health in your state (from CDC.gov).
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).
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're 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/employee health plan website, especially when you need to choose a primary physician
There's often a link between previous complaints against health care providers, and potential medical malpractice lawsuits, at least in the minds of patients.
If you believe that a doctor or other provider made an unacceptable mistake while treating you, you may have come to this article to learn whether other patients have had negative experiences with the same health care provider. That kind of information can be helpful, but if you're considering filing a medical malpractice lawsuit, you've got a lot more to consider. These resources can help:
If you do decide to sue a doctor or other health care provider, it's essential to have an experienced legal professional on your side. Medical malpractice cases are notoriously tough to win. There are stacks of medical records to analyze and unique court rules to comply with, plus you'll be going up against a doctor (and an insurance company) who will almost certainly dig in for a fight.
There's no substitute for a lawyer's experience and willingness to battle it out. Learn more about hiring a medical malpractice lawyer and how it might boost your chance of a successful case.