Getting the information you need on doctors
Many people assume that 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 equal. There’s nothing worse than going to see a doctor, then having your appointment rushed, or being treated rudely, or getting a bad diagnosis.
You wouldn’t buy a car without first doing a little research on it. So why would you put your health in a doctor’s hands without checking up on him in advance?
How to give your doctor a check-up
The easiest way to perform a background check on a physician is by contacting your state medical board. These medical boards certify all the doctors who operate 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. It varies state by state, but medical boards will often release only limited information about a physician’s certification.
This scant knowledge isn’t always 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 wide variety of resources for patients, including information on physicians. You can visit their website at www.ama-assn.org.
However, you need to 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 29 per cent 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 checking a doctor’s background, here are the questions you’ll want to ask:
• How long has this doctor been practicing medicine?
• How many hospital or membership affiliations does this doctor have? (The more,the better.)
• Does this doctor specialize in your particular condition or ailment?
• How many malpractice lawsuits have been brought against this 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 your visit to the physician, ask around at your place of work, child’s school, or church. Ask if other people in town have visited your doctor and what their experience has been 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. 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. More than 1 million reviews have been entered here since 2004.
• 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.
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 state medical boards, the AMA, or the ABMS.
And before you make an appointment with a new doctor, ask around at your place of work, your child’s school, or your church… there’s no better background check than word of mouth.