Checking a Doctor’s Credentials

Many people trust health insurance companies to contract with top-quality doctors, hospitals, and state licensing agencies. Unfortunately, many insurers regularly use practitioners who are subpar at best. Some may even have medical disciplinary actions, medical malpractice claims, and other negative marks on their records.

Different Ways to Research a Doctor

Although no federal database provides free access to physicians’ licenses and records, it should not discourage patients from looking into a doctor’s background before accepting treatment. There are a few free options available to people, however.

Botched medical procedures, incorrect treatment, and other medical accidents can cost thousands of dollars, loss of time from treatments, and loss of enjoyment of life, among other damages.

However, you can check into a physician’s past in several ways, including:

  • Check with the state medical board. State law varies on how much physician information is available to the public. This includes disciplinary actions and malpractice lawsuits. Massachusetts residents can search any practicing physician online. Profiles will include criminal convictions, state board or hospital discipline records, and medical malpractice payments reported to the state board.
  • Search DocFinder (free). If you aren’t in Massachusetts, you may look into DocFinder, a website that provides medical records and related information for 15 states. There are links to state board information for around 30 other states, including New York, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire.
  • Check DocInfo ($9.95). Although it costs money, this site has access to medical professionals practicing in all 50 states. The Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) supports the site. DocInfo provides disciplinary records, potential sanctions, educational histories, licensing information, and important certification records.
  • Look into patient reviews online. Several free physician-rating sites are available with a quick search of the web. Some sites allow anonymous comments, however, which can lead to controversial or false postings.

I Need a Medical Expert. Should I Go With a Doctor Who Has Researched My Medical Condition?

Often, people need to seek treatment from practitioners with a more specialized focus than a general physician has. But will a doctor who does research regarding a specific medical condition give the best quality care?

Yes and No

Research means a doctor is educated on a condition and may know how to go about treatment. A doctor has expertise on a subject if he or she has done extensive research. However, a pharmaceutical company or a medical manufacturer may fund some of this research. In other words, the business may be paying doctors to skew findings. Be sure to search a doctor’s name along with the words “research” and “publication.”

Look for small notes about companies that funded the doctor’s research. If a doctor tries to prescribe a drug or treatment from the company that funded the research, the doctor may be acting negligently.

Judging a Doctor’s Qualifications

Depending on the information you turn up in your research, it may still be difficult to determine whether your doctor can adequately treat your condition. Any information regarding previous disciplinary actions and malpractice suits may be a big red flag. More common, however, is to discover complaints about billing practices, or people unhappy with the service or treatment the doctor provided.

A doctor certified by the American Board of Medical Specialties must maintain continuing education and pass stricter qualifications. A board-certified doctor is more likely to meet any qualifications you need.

Doctors recommended through your insurance provider may be more likely to be a good fit for your needs. These doctors build long-term relationships they work hard to maintain. An insurance company will be less likely to recommend an unqualified doctor who may cause complications requiring more expensive medical treatment down the road.

In the end, visiting the doctor yourself may be the best measure of a doctor’s qualifications. Ultimately, if you don’t feel comfortable with a doctor, it may be best to keep searching.

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