How to learn more about your doctor
When it is time to find a new doctor, you want to choose someone you can trust. How can you find out the truth about your doctor? While many health care providers are caring, professional, and competent, some are not. Fortunately, there are ways to check a doctor's credentials and standing. Use the resources below to learn about your doctor before you start working together.
The provider you choose may be a nurse practitioner or a physician assistant. There are different sites to check on certification and specialization for these providers.
The most accurate information is likely to come from sites that track data about doctors taken from government sources, hospitals, and associations.
Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) -- www.fsmb.org/globalassets/advocacy/key-issues/physician-profiling-by-state.pdf
The FSMB has a list of state medical board websites. You can look up your doctor on the state site to see if they are licensed to practice in your state. Not all states provide the same amount of information. Some only share state license and board actions against the doctor. Others include actions taken in other states, medical malpractice, disciplinary actions, awards, and so on. If your state does not provide this information, you may be able to request it.
Other providers like nurse practitioners and physician assistants are also licensed by states. Most states have a similar search for all licensed medical providers.
DocInfo -- www.docinfo.org
For a more complete picture, you can order a doctor profile from the FSMB for a fee. The FSMB collects data on doctors, osteopaths, and most physician assistants who are licensed in the Unites States. The profile includes:
- Physician disciplinary sanctions.
- Education. Med school name, year of graduation, and degree earned.
- Licensure History. State name, date issued, and license number.
- Medical specialty.
- Location Information.
HealthGrades -- www.healthgrades.com
HealthGrades gathers data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and state medical boards. You can use this free website to get information about your doctor as well as local hospitals. You can get information on a doctor's:
- Education and training
- Procedures performed
- Conditions treated
- Malpractice claims, sanctions, and board actions
- Languages spoken
The site also collects patient satisfaction surveys from users of the site.
Dollars for Doctors -- www.propublica.org/series/dollars-for-docs
Prescriber Checkup -- projects.propublica.org/checkup
These pages are run by ProPublica, a non-profit, news organization. Propublica produces investigative journalism in the public interest. Using Dollars for Doctors, you can check to see whether your doctor has received money from a drug company. With Prescriber Checkup, you can view your doctor's prescribing habits compared to the average doctor. The sites use prescribing data from Medicare Part D. This means that most of the information is based on prescriptions written for older adults and people with disabilities. These are groups that tend to use more prescription drugs.
While these sites can help you find out about your doctor, they are not foolproof. Most of the information you will find is from lawsuits that have been settled. If any complaints are still in process, you will not know about it. Keep in mind too that doctors in certain specialties may be more likely to be sued. And not all lawsuits mean that the doctor did something wrong.
Read the results closely. Poor scores for the office staff don't necessarily reflect on the provider, who may be one of many providers in a busy practice. You are more likely to see tell-tale trends if a provider has been reviewed by 40 people rather than 4.
Also, these sites have no way to cover all practicing doctors. Many excellent physicians may have few or no reviews or nominations. So just because someone is not listed does not mean they do not provide excellent care.
Federation of State Medical Boards website. Contact a state medical board. www.fsmb.org/contact-a-state-medical-board. Accessed February 9, 2018.
Public Citizen website. Physician accountability. www.citizen.org/our-work/health-and-safety/physician-accountability. Accessed February 9, 2018.
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.