Thursday, January 24, 2008

12 Tools to Do a Background Check On Your Doctor

I though my readers might find this useful for those not using the VA Medical system or for finding medical professionals for their family members

12 Tools to Do a Background Check On Your Doctor

Finding a good doctor can save you time, money, and aggravation- and in some cases, it may save your life. Still, many people spend less time researching their doctor than they do a simple household purchase. Use these valuable tips and tools to be a proactive patient and make sure that you and your family are getting the best medical care possible.

Find the best hospitals: The best doctors generally work for the best hospitals. Find a physician that is affiliated with the best hospital in your area. If you are not sure which hospital ranks highest in your region, visit The Leapfrog Group to find hospital quality rankings based on voluntary surveys. The organization’s data is based on quality, safety, and efficiency practices that may affect a patient’s overall level of care at that hospital. While The Leapfrog Group may provide a starting point in your search, it does not provide a list of providers associated with hospital. You will have to call that hospital’s referral line directly or ask if your insurance provider lists hospital affiliation in its provider directory.

Verify your doctor’s license and certification: For basic information on your doctor’s education, licensing, and board certification visit the American Medical Association or the American Board of Medical Specialties. These resources will tell you where the doctor went to school and if he or she is actually licensed to practice medicine. You can look up doctors by name or search for a list of doctors by zip code. The ABMS helps consumers find specialists who are board certified in their field or verify that their current specialist is indeed certified in the specialty. These resources provide only the most basic information about licensed physicians, but both sites include useful tips and information on being a smart patient and finding good doctors.

Contact your state medical board: Your state medical board provides a list of every doctor licensed to practice medicine in your state. These web sites vary from state to state, but you can very often find a doctor’s education, hospital affiliation, and any recent history of malpractice or disciplinary action. Your state government website is a good starting place for this search, and most states have a toll-free number you can call to receive this information by phone.

Visit the Federation of State Medical Boards: The FSMB aggregates data from state medical boards and other agencies on disciplinary action taken against physicians and physician assistants throughout the U.S. You can sign up for one of two services that both charge a small fee. The Board Action Database Search investigates whether any disciplinary action has been taken against a physician and saves you the time and energy of searching on state medical boards yourself. The Disciplinary Alert Service continuously monitors your physician and alerts you via e-mail if he or she is disciplined or loses accreditation, letting you rest easy in knowing that FSMB will do the legwork for you.

Talk to a doctor you already know and trust: If you are looking for a specialist, ask your general physician if he or she can recommend a doctor in that field. In doctor's offices, receptionists will often keep a list of recommended specialists on file for patients. Or, if you are moving to a different city, ask your current doctor if he or she can recommend a friend or colleague in the city to which you are moving. Query any friends who are doctors or who work in the medical field if they know doctors that they regard highly. A quick conversation with a knowledgeable friend or trusted doctor can save you the time, money, and headache involved in obtaining a competent doctor.

Ask friends and family: Word of mouth from someone who knows you personally can be the most accurate and reliable method of conducting a background check. If your friend has been seeing the same doctor for fifteen years, you may want to trust his or her judgment. Be sure to ask friends and members of your family specific questions about the doctor’s demeanor, punctuality, and thoroughness. Sometimes patients keep seeing the same doctor just out of habit, so you want to make sure that you are getting a valuable recommendation.

Visit This user-driven site allows consumers to read what other patients have said about doctors in your area. Patients give doctors a score of 1-5 based on being punctual, helpful, and knowledgeable as well as a smiley or angry face to represent their overall patient experience. A small written review provides a more detailed and personal perspective than can be found in other resources. However, you are essentially taking advice from a stranger, and this website is still growing to include more and more physicians, so it may not have any reviews on the specific doctor you are looking for.

Check out Save the time and hassle of doing your own research, and pay Healthgrades to do it for you. Simply type in your physician’s basic information and you can receive a full report detailing your doctor’s education, training, and any disciplinary action take against him or her in the last five years. While the most comprehensive physician reports cost $29.95, much of the other valuable information on the site, such as hospital ratings, is free of charge.

Access This site also provides a variety of paid services all geared towards helping consumers find the best medical care in their area. This for-profit service charges $19.95 for a comprehensive background check on a doctor or and a smaller fee to browse a list of doctors top-rated by other doctors. Patients can narrow down providers recommended for over 1800 diseases and medical conditions. All specialists in the MDNationwide database are certified the ABMS, so consumers won’t have to verify that information themselves.

Use the Consumer's Checkbook Guide to Top Doctors: This service pools data from surveys given to 26,000 physicians around the country. Consumer's Checkbook asked physicians to name the specialists they would most trust to take care of a loved one. The Top Doctors database contains the names of 20,000+ doctors who were named most often. Print and online access to this book costs $24.95 for two years, and the database indicates how many times the doctor was recommended by other physicians as well as their contact information. This guide provides a reliable directory of doctors who are well-respected and known in their profession, but it does not reflect input from actual patients.

Learn more about the National Committee of Quality Assurance: NCQA is a private, not-for-profit organization dedicated to measuring and reporting on healthcare in the U.S. It has developed a free Physician Recognition Directory that helps individuals find doctors who have demonstrate that they meet certain levels of care. It is the only website of its kind that uses a standard methodology and actual patient health data to compare and rate a physician’s effectiveness. The Physician Recognition Directory specializes in care for diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, but you can also find report cards on the best health plans and physician practice groups in the country.

Pay attention to dates: When researching your doctor’s credentials, pay attention to dates. If you doctor was licensed less than five years ago, you may want to want to look for someone more experienced or seek a second opinion for a more serious ailment. On the other hand, if your doctor has been practicing medicine for some time, you may want to verify that your doctor stills meets accreditation standards so you know that you are getting the best and most up-to-date treatment available.

With the mounting costs and obstacles to receiving quality, affordable healthcare, it is more important than ever to be proactive in finding the best doctors you can. Use several of these tools to cross-reference sources and obtain the most accurate and current information about your doctors. The more information you can obtain about your doctors' background and professional conduct, the more likely you will find the right doctor for your needs.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great article and research. There is a new free alternative to Healthgrades. Try They claim to have a fresh and accurate database of all physicians in the US. The site seems like it is in Beta but I was able to find all the data on my family's physicians.