We all trust our primary care docs with our lives — and, in most cases, have known them for years.
But if you’ve recently relocated, received a new insurance plan, or have been referred to a specialist, you may be putting your health in the hands of someone you don’t know very well.
You might have been told that they’re very qualified… perhaps “the best” in their field. But how do you know for sure?
The answer is that you don’t. And the medical profession makes it as hard as possible to find out if your new doctor has been disciplined or is currently on probation.
Consumer Reports has just released its “Safe Patient Project” report, and despite the roadblocks in learning the truth about a doctor’s background, they’ve found some ways to go about it.
It could be one of the most important things you do before picking up the phone and making that first appointment.
“You can find out more about the safety record of your toaster” than your doctor.
That’s what Robert Oshel, former associate director at the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), has to say about checking on a physician’s background.
You probably would never even think about things like a doctor being put on probation, but they are. Actually thousands of practicing doctors are on probation all over the country! And most are still allowed to see patients who probably have no idea about what’s going on.
One California OB-GYN, for example, has been put on a seven-year probation for (among other things) surgically removing the healthy ovary from a 37-year-old woman, and contributing to the deaths of two young mothers.
But he doesn’t have to breathe a word about any of this to his patents if he doesn’t want to.
And he’s not alone. The California Medical Board currently has a 32-page list of other doctors in California also on probation.
And that’s just one state!
Also, while many malpractice lawsuits are filed frivolously, Oshel discovered that half of all malpractice payouts are because of just under 2 percent of the doctors in the U.S.
“When doctors have multiple large settlement against them, it can be a warning sign,” he says.
So, the question remains, how do you learn more about a doctor you’re planning to see?
Consumer Reports found that there’s no central database for us to look this information up. The NPDB keeps such records (including malpractice settlements) but that’s only available to select groups — such as insurance companies — and not the patients who need it the most!
And while there are some popular Internet sites to look doctors up on, they typically rely on user reviews.
So instead of just Googling that new doc’s name, here are some investigative techniques that Consumer Reports suggests:
- Start by going to docinfo.org and put in the doctor’s name. If anything comes up under the “actions” heading, click on that link and see what you can find out. If that doesn’t work, call your state medical board.
- Check out your state medical board online. Some are very helpful and easy to use, such as California’s and New York’s, and others not so much. To see how your state checks out, look here. And for links to the medical boards in all 50 states, go here.
- Last, but certainly not least, first impressions count. If you’re put off by that first appointment, it may be the best reason of all not to have a second one.
“What you don’t know about your doctor could hurt you” Rachel Rabkin Peachman” Consumer Reports, consumerreports.org