How to Check Your Doctor’s Credentials

It is truly amazing how few people actually take the time to check their doctors’ credentials. Most patients choose their physicians based on either a simple word-of-mouth referral or by which doctor is geographically desirable. Selecting a plumber is often a more arduous task than selecting an allergist. Perhaps the problem lies not in the desire to obtain information about our doctors, but rather in the ability to do so. In the past, checking doctors’ experience and credentials could be time-consuming and difficult. Times have changed. With the advent of the internet, a few minutes banging on your keyboard could mean the difference between selecting a competent lasik eye surgeon and damaging your sight. Isn’t your health worth it?

There are three key factors to determine when investigating your doctor. First, what are her credentials? Is she “board certified” in a particular area? Where did she attend school? Does she have any teaching appointments? Has she published in a particular area? And what is her level of experience? Second, it is important to determine whether your doctor has been disciplined, meaning whether the state licensing board has taken any action against her. Third, it is useful to know whether a physician has been sued for malpractice. Simply because a doctor has been sued does not necessarily mean that the doctor is a bad doctor. In fact, a physician who has been sued may in fact become more prudent as a result.

Below are some links and descriptions to learn more about your doctor. Note that the descriptions may come from the web pages themselves.

Maryland/DC/Virginia

Maryland

Maryland Doc Finder
The Maryland Board of Physician Quality Assurance (the “Board”) is an agency of the state with the authority to license physicians and other health care providers such as physician assistants, cardiac rescue technicians, EMT-paramedics, medical radiation technologists, nuclear medical technologists, respiratory care practitioners, and psychiatrists assistants. In addition to establishing qualifications for licensure, the Board is responsible for investigating complaints against licensees and for taking action against the license of those who fail to maintain Maryland’s high standards of medical care delivery or who break the laws governing licensure.

District of Columbia

DC Department of Health
The District of Columbia provides some information about its physicians on this site. The web page, however, is not as detailed or user-friendly as those set up by some of the other jurisdictions.

Virginia

VA Department of Health Professions
Virginia provides information about discipline of its physicians, as well as other educational material.

National Cites

American Medical Association
The American Medical Association provides research information for physicians and provides links to state disciplinary boards. Additionally, the American Medical Association’s AMA Physician Select provides limited information on the training and certification status of all of the more than 650,000 medical and osteopathic physicians currently licensed in the United States. It does not list disciplinary actions. Searches can only be done one state at a time. This service is free of charge.

Health Grades
Health Grades maintains a searchable database of over 650,000 physicians. Searching, which is free of charge, requires the physician’s last name and state of practice. The resultant information includes whether the doctor has been sanctioned within the past few years; however, no details are provided. Searches can also be conducted for “leading” physicians, hospitals, and health plans, as defined by criteria posted on the site. Rating as a “leading physician” is said to require (a) a minimum of two years of practice, (b) board certification, (c) no Medicare or medical board sanctions within the previous three years, and (d) affiliation with a hospital that HealthGrade.com rates as “three stars” or higher. Another excellent research tool is Searchpointe, whose sources include the AMA, the FDA, the DEA, and HHS.

Data Banks

The National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB)
NPDB began operating in 1990, is intended to hinder the movement of “problem practitioners” from one facility or state to another. Licensing boards are required to report all actions that revoke, suspend, or restrict a license for reasons related to the practitioner’s professional competence or conduct. Professional societies must report all professional review actions that adversely affect the membership of a physician or dentist. Hospital administrators must report disciplinary actions that negatively affect a doctor’s clinical privileges for more than 30 days and must query the Data Bank when appointing or re-appointing medical and dental staff. Malpractice insurance carriers are required to report all settlements against physicians, dentists, and other licensed health-care providers. The information is available to state licensing boards; hospitals and other health care entities; professional societies; certain federal agencies; and plaintiffs (or their attorneys) in a malpractice suit.

The Healthcare Integrity and Protection Data Bank (HIPDB)
HIPDB became operational in 1999, is intended to combat fraud and abuse in health insurance and health-care delivery. It collects information about licensure and certification actions, criminal convictions, exclusions from federal and state health-care programs, civil judgments (other than malpractice actions) related to health care, and other adjudicated actions or decisions. The information can be accessed by health plans and federal and state agencies.