The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

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
  • sleepchart.jpg America’s sleep-deprived cities

    Americans might run on sleep, but those living in the country's largest cities don't appear to run on much.

    August 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Who should pay for your kids ACT?

    Thirteen states paid for 11th-grade students in all public high schools to take the ACT college admission test this year, with several more planning to join them in 2015.

    August 20, 2014

  • Pets.jpg Why do people look like their pets?

    As much as we might quibble over the virtues and vices of Canis domesticus, however, and over whether human nature is any better or worse than dog nature, even dog fanciers don't usually want to look like a dog.

    August 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ice bucket challenge trending up

    Internet trends are a dime a dozen these days. Everything from Tebowing to planking to the cinnamon challenge can cause a wave of social media activity that can last for weeks before fizzling out.

    August 19, 2014

  • Africa goes medieval in its fight against Ebola

    As the Ebola epidemic claims new victims at an ever-increasing rate, African governments in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia have instituted a "cordon sanitaire," deploying troops to forcibly isolate the inhabitants in an area containing most of the cases.

    August 18, 2014

  • Democrat? Republican? There's an app for that

    If you're a Republican, you might want to think twice before buying Lipton Iced Tea, and forget about Starbucks coffee. If you're a Democrat, put down that Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, and throw away the cylinder of Quaker Oats in your pantry.

    August 18, 2014

  • Five myths about presidential vacations

    In the nuclear age, presidents may have only minutes to make a decision that could affect the entire world. They don't so much leave the White House as they take a miniature version of it with them wherever they go.

    August 15, 2014

  • Can 6 seconds launch a career? A generation of Vine stars sure hopes so.

    A year ago, Shawn Mendes filmed himself singing a tentative acoustic cover of the Justin Bieber song "As Long as You Love Me" and put the results on Vine. He wasn't expecting much response. "I didn't really want anything to happen; I just kind of wanted to see what people would think," says Mendes, 16. "I posted that first Vine and woke up the next morning with 10,000 followers. That was pretty cool."

    August 14, 2014

  • Freshman.jpg 8 crucial tips for college freshmen

    With school starting back up around the country, no one has a bigger deer-in-the-headlights look than college freshmen.

    August 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • A night in Ferguson

    For the past week in Ferguson, reporters have been using the McDonald's a few blocks from the scene of Michael Brown's shooting as a staging area. Demonstrations have blown up each night nearby.

    August 14, 2014

E-edition
AP Video
Obama: World Is Appalled by Murder of Journalist Israel, Militants Trade Fire After Talks Fail Pres. George W. Bush Takes Ice Bucket Challenge Pierce Brosnan's Call to Join the Expendables Changes Coming to No-Fly List Raw: IDF Footage Said to Show Airstrikes Police: Ferguson More Peaceful Raw: Aftermath of Airstrike in Gaza Raw: Thousands March on Pakistani Parliament Raw: World's Oldest Man Lives in Japan Fire Crews Tame Yosemite Fire Raw: Police Weapon Drawn Near Protesters, Media Raw: Explosions in Gaza As Airstrikes Resume Charter Schools Alter Post-Katrina Landscape Texas Gov. Perry: Indictment 'a Political Act' US Officials: Video Shows American's Beheading Video Shows Ferguson Cop Months Before Shooting Water Bottles Recalled for Safety Researcher Testing On-Field Concussion Scanners
NDN Video
Motorcyclist Sticks Landing This 'Breaking Bad' Reunion is the Most Hilarious Thing You'll See All Day! President Obama talks about who James Foley was Nicki Minaj Unleashes Her 'Anaconda' On the World Watch Helicopter Perform Aerial Ballet Can Buckeyes fill Miller's void? Victoria's Secret Models Prove They're in Fighting Shape How Brian Hoyer Stacks Up With Johnny Manziel Taylor Swift Reveals New Album 1989 is Full-On Pop Crews rescue elderly woman trapped inside flooded minivan Man Poses for New Mugshot Photo Wearing Shirt with Old Mugshot Photo On It Disquieting times for Malaysia's 'fish listeners' Caught On Camera: Johnny Manziel Obscene Gesture Rita Ora Embraces the Ice Bucket Challenge Bird surprises soccer player Ashley Young during game Chapter Two: Never too late to become an artist Ice Bucket Challenge Goes Viral, Raises Over $15M For ALS Damaging Winds Stop the Show! In the Cockpit of the Air Force's Elite Squadron Pathologist: Autopsy Shows Teen Repeatedly Shot
Must Read