What Do You REALLY Know About Your Doctor?

Do Your Research:
How to Get the Information You Need on Your Doctor

How much do you really know about your doctor?

Many people assume that just because someone is wearing a lab coat and has “M.D.” or “D.O.” after his name, he must be a reliable doctor. But not all doctors, or hospitals for that matter, are created equally. There’s nothing worse than going to see a doctor and having your appointment rushed, or being treated rudely, or getting a bad diagnosis.

You wouldn’t buy a car without doing some research first. So why would you put your health in a doctor’s hands without checking up on him in advance?

Give Your Doctor a Check Up

The easiest way to perform a background check on your doctor is by contacting your state medical board. These medical boards certify each doctor that practices in their state. Best of all, obtaining information from a state medical board is usually free.

However, the information that the medical board provides may not be very thorough. The actual data varies state by state, but medical boards will often release only limited information about a physician’s certification.

This scant knowledge isn’t enough when you’re putting your well-being in a doctor’s hands. Fortunately, you have other options. One is the American Medical Association (AMA), the largest organization of doctors and medical students in the United States. The AMA has a variety of resources for patients, including information on physicians. You can visit their website at www.ama-assn.org.

However, you should be aware of two key limitations. First, the AMA is a powerful lobbying group whose primary mission is to serve their members- doctors- not patients. Second, only a small percentage of doctors actually belong to the AMA.

Another option is the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), an elite organization that oversees 24 medical certification boards. They can provide a more detailed background report on your doctor. Their website is www.abms.org.

When you’re checking a doctor’s background, here are some questions you should be sure to ask:

  • How long has the doctor been practicing medicine?
  • How many hospital or membership affiliations does the doctor have? (The more, the better.)
  • Does the doctor specialize in your particular condition or ailment?
  • How many malpractice lawsuits have been brought against the doctor?
  • How many disciplinary actions have been brought against this doctor?
  • If this doctor claims to be a specialist, is he board certified in his specialty?

Finally, there’s no better background check than word-of-mouth. Before you visit any physcician, ask around your place of work, your child’s school, or church. Ask if other people in your town have visited the same doctor, and what their experience was like.

Rating Doctors in the Information Age

The dawn of the internet and digital technology has put a wealth of information just a click away. If you have a computer with an internet connection, you can get information about a physician from a number of websites. Best of all, many of these websites allow patients to rate the doctor in question.

Here are the best websites to check for doctor ratings:

  • RateMDs.com – This site rates doctors on a five-point scale based on user reviews and allows patients to leave detailed comments.
  • HealthGrades.com – This is a more thorough site that allows patients to rate doctors, hospitals, and nursing homes. It also lists specialties, education, malpractice history, and sanctions, although this information is often incomplete.
  • Vitals.com – This is a comprehensive database of more than 720,000 physicians. It allows you to rate doctors, and also provides more substantial background reports. Note that this site may require you to set up a profile and provide some personal information before you can use it.

These websites are incredibly useful and often accurate, but use these as a secondary resource. They’re no substitute for running a proper background check with your state’s medical boards, the AMA, or the ABMS.

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You don’t have to be helpless. You can survive the post-antibiotic era.