The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Community News Network

February 25, 2014

You can examine your doctor's record, but don't expect to learn everything

— Recently a reader wrote me to ask how patients can perform background checks on their doctors, to make sure that they're in good standing. He had a reason for asking: A few years ago, he said, he'd agreed to have a spinal fusion performed by an apparently well-regarded surgeon. The operation left him worse off than when he started, and he later discovered that there were numerous malpractice lawsuits pending against the surgeon.

The reader was outraged and confused. He had been given the surgeon's name by another doctor. He'd even looked up the surgeon's profile online, and what he found there looked like a clean record.

Unfortunately, there's no foolproof way to vet your doctor, says physician Michael Carome, director of the health research group at Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy organization based in Washington. But there are some basic steps you can take to look into a doctor's credentials and record.

Start at your state's medical board. Most state medical boards' Web sites allow you to search for individual physician licenses. Boards vary in the amount of data they disclose on these sites, Carome says, but many will list information about disciplinary actions taken against a physician and payments made for medical malpractice lawsuits. If your state doesn't post that information, you may be able to contact the medical board and request it, Carome says.

Realize, though, that such records will show only settlements that have been made, not pending lawsuits or investigations that aren't complete, and states vary in how aggressive they are in taking action against problem doctors, Carome says. "Too often, medical boards give problem physicians a slap on the wrist - like a letter of reprimand, probation or a suspended license that is then immediately reinstated - so that they can continue practicing." What may appear like a minor infraction in the doctor's record could represent something serious, so don't be afraid to ask questions, Carome says.

State medical boards generally provide their information free of charge, but you can also order a report on an individual doctor through Docinfo (www.docinfo.org), a service of the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB). For $9.95 per search, you can look up a physician's medical school and year of graduation, licensure history, board specialties, location, alternate names and disciplinary actions taken against him or her.

"Every disciplinary action reported by state medical boards to the FSMB is uploaded," says Lisa Robin, chief advocacy officer of the federation.

It's not easy for doctors to run away from disciplinary measures. "Under federal law, suspended licenses must be reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank," Carome says. These records aren't publicly available, but hospitals and state medical boards have access to them. If, say, a physician who had his license suspended in California moves to Ohio and applies for a license, the State Medical Board of Ohio is able to check that physician's record in the national data bank before making a decision, Carome says.

Although patients can't access the national database, they can look up information about physicians on sites such as Healthgrades.com, a for-profit venture that's free for patients. (The company makes its money from advertising bought by drugmakers, medical device manufacturers and hospitals and doctors who pay extra to highlight their products and services, says Evan Marks, Healthgrades' executive vice president for informatics and strategy.)

The site provides doctor reviews collected from patients as well as information from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and state medical boards, Marks says. Like other sources, Healthgrades collects information only about lawsuits that have been settled, so a doctor with pending lawsuits may still appear to have a spotless record.

If you're concerned that your doctor may be unduly influenced by pharmaceutical companies, you can use the "Dollars for Doctors" page maintained by the ProPublica journalism project to find out if he or she has received drug company money and, if so, how much. You can also see how doctors' prescribing habits compare with their peers' at ProPublica's Prescriber Checkup page, projects.propublica.org/checkup. The site shows how often a physician prescribes drugs that present special risks compared with the average doctor, as well as rates of name-brand drug prescriptions and the average number and cost of prescriptions their patients are given.

An Internet search may turn up patient complaints or lawsuits that are still pending, but keep a skeptical eye about such reports, says Daniel Spogen, a physician at the University of Nevada School of Medicine and a member of the board of directors of the American Academy of Family Physicians. Sometimes a doctor does everything right but the patient fares poorly anyway, through no fault of the physician, and the patient or his family sues. The average physician is sued for malpractice once every seven or eight years, but not every lawsuit has just cause, Spogen says.

As for the reader with the back surgery gone wrong, he now searches the Web for lawsuits or complaints against doctors he might choose to visit, and he looks for their names in court records before seeing them. His methods may seem extreme, but he's willing to spend the extra time to ensure that he has turned over every stone.

 

1
Text Only
Community News Network
  • 20140729-AMX-GIVHAN292.jpg Spanx stretches into new territory with jeans, but promised magic is elusive

    The Spanx empire of stomach-flattening, thigh-slimming, jiggle-reducing foundation garments has expanded to include what the brand promises is the mother of all body-shaping miracles: Spanx jeans.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Medical marijuana opponents' most powerful argument is at odds with a mountain of research

    Opponents of marijuana legalization are rapidly losing the battle for hearts and minds. Simply put, the public understands that however you measure the consequences of marijuana use, the drug is significantly less harmful to users and society than tobacco or alcohol.

    July 29, 2014

  • linda-ronstadt.jpg Obama had crush on First Lady of Rock

    Linda Ronstadt remained composed as she walked up to claim her National Medal of Arts at a White House ceremony Monday afternoon.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Can black women have it all?

    In a powerful new essay for the National Journal, my friend Michel Martin makes a compelling case for why we need to continue the having-it-all conversation.

    July 29, 2014

  • 'Rebel' mascot rising from the dead

    Students and alumni from a Richmond, Va.-area high school are seeking to revive the school's historic mascot, a Confederate soldier known as the "Rebel Man," spurring debate about the appropriateness of public school connections to the Civil War and its icons.

    July 28, 2014

  • 072214 Diamond Llama 1.jpg Llama on the loose corralled in Missouri town

    A llama on the lam cruised Main Street Tuesday before it mistook a resident’s fenced backyard for a place to grab a meal and freshen up.

    July 22, 2014 2 Photos

  • When your doctor commits suicide, things get complicated

    When they call for appointments, patients are told they can't see their doctor. Ever. The standard line: "We are sorry, but your doctor died suddenly."

    July 15, 2014

  • NWS-HB0713-HowardMartin-004.jpg Airman laid to rest back home in Indiana six decades after death

    The mystery of what happened to a military transport plane that disappeared in the fall of 1952 into an Alaskan glacier was solved two years ago when a helicopter crew spotted the wreckage. But it took another two years to retrieve the remains of Airman Howard Miller and 16 other servicemen passengers. Saturday, Miller was laid to rest in his hometown of Elwood, Ind., with full military honors. Hundreds turned out for the funeral and burial services.

    July 13, 2014 2 Photos

  • This is what happened when I drove my Mercedes to pick up food stamps

     I climbed the ladder quickly, free to work any hours in any location for any pay. I moved from market to market, always achieving a better title, a better salary. Succeeding.

    July 8, 2014

  • Nation's first soda tax could come to Berkeley

    The Berkeley City Council unanimously decided last week to put the 1-cent-per-ounce tax on the ballot this November. Approving the tax would mean a major defeat for the soda industry, which has spent millions to crush the effort nationwide.

    July 7, 2014

Front page
Clinton Herald Photos


Browse, buy and submit pictures with our photo site.

Poll

What are your plans for the weekend?

Enjoying the outdoors
Staying in out of the heat
Traveling
Other
     View Results
AP Video
Olympics 2014
Featured Comment
Featured Ads
Blue Zones Project
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.