Know Everything About Your Doctor? Probably Not

So, your kid's about to have his tonsils out and you want to know if your doctor's the right one to do it.  Ask friends?  Look into malpractice suits?  Check those flashy magazine covers that claim to have discovered your state's best doctors list (read: they take out a lot of ads)?  Find out his mortality stats?

Good luck.  According to The Washington Post, it's easier to find out your neighbor's social security number than to get a really reliable forecast of how your child's surgery will turn out, under the doctor you pick.

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

She notes that you should first check your state's medical board's Web site, which allows you to search for individual physician licenses. “Under federal law, suspended licenses must be reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank,” Aschwanden quotes Carome. 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," Aschwanden writes. 

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, according to Aschwanden. If your state doesn’t post that information, you may be able to contact the medical board and request it, Carome says. 

But that will only show judgments that have been made against your doctor, not pending charges. My former oncologist was sued while I was seeing him for misdiagnosing another patient's cancer and paid out $2 million.  I'm not sure the judgment was fair, as another, original surgeon, was involved, too.  But that was one of the reasons I left him (oh, and don't forget the recurrence of mine he also missed). And yet, this guy had won a MacArthur genius grant, given only to the brightest and the best in the U.S.

And don't depend on other doctor's recommendations, either.  They're probably just giving you their friends.

Another option is to go online and see if your doctor is mentioned in any kind of misbehavior or treatment. 

Can you find out everything?  Probably not.  But if you do your homework, you're in better shape than just guessing, or taking your chances. 


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