The other day, I received a list of three doctors from the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board. I still have some problems with one of my hands, and before my case is completely closed, it was suggested I take part in a QME--a "qualified medical examination." My task was to pick one of the three doctors on the list and make an appointment. How would I decide which one to see? Well, I thought this subject might make a helpful blog post for anyone out there who needs to find a doctor and doesn't know how to weed out the less favorable candidates.
Because of my job working for a law firm that represents doctors, I suppose I have a little more knowledge about doctors and the resources available to me. The first thing I did was to check each of the doctors with the California Medical Board.
The Board has a website where anyone can put in a physician's name--even if it's just the last name of the doctor--and find out information about them such as their schooling, how long they've been licensed, and whether they have had any significant legal actions against them. If an accusation has been filed with the Medical Board, that legal document can be viewed also.
What I found when I checked the three doctors was that the first one had been sued in federal court and had a $170,000 judgment against him. Because it was federal court, that implied to me that it may have been a case involving a prisoner, although there are a couple other possibilities. But whatever it was, $170,000 is a pretty big judgment.
For doctors, when it comes to settlements and judgments, there are what are referred to as "reporting limits." A settlement or judgment under $30,000 is not reportable to some of the databanks, and so sometimes a doctor will agree to settle a case under that limit just to have it done and over with, even if he or she didn't believe they had done anything wrong. Finding out a doctor has had a settlement or judgment in an amount under $30,000 doesn't raise red flags the way a settlement or judgment over that limit would.
When I checked the second doctor, I found out the Medical Board had taken action against him some years prior. In fact, his license to practice in the State of California and two other states had been suspended for three years, and he had only gotten his license back in June 2011. It usually takes quite a bit to have a physician's license revoked or suspended. I was able to access the accusation against him on the website and skim through it--I can't remember now why his license was suspended but I decided he probably wasn't the physician for me.
When I checked the third doctor, I didn't find anything negative about him. He'd been practicing for around 35 years and his license looked clean.
Just to doublecheck, I went to another website--this one was for the ABMS (the American Board of Medical Specialties). This website lists physicians in every state in the United States. Doctors can apply for certification in a particular field of practice and will be required to pass a written examination and, in many cases, an oral examination. Just because a physician isn't board certified doesn't mean he or she is a bad doctor, but it's just one more assurance we patients have that our doctors are competent and knowledgeable. (If you want to check to see is a physician is board certified, the site will ask you to register with an email address and password, but you won't receive spam from them and anyone can sign up.)
When I checked all three of the physicians from the list I was provided, I found that all three were board certified--which was reassuring. Given all the circumstances, I ended up making an appointment with that third doctor. I should also mention that this third doctor was the one I'd have to travel farthest to see, so if I didn't know what resources were available to me to check on all of the physicians, he'd probably have been my last choice--I would have gone with the doctor whose office was only a couple blocks from my office, and that was the one with the big verdict against him.
Please keep in mind that just because a doctor has a judgment against him or her or had his or her license suspended at some point doesn't, in and of itself, mean the doctor is a bad one. Doctors, like the rest of us, make mistakes on occasions; the mistakes made by doctors, though, tend to be more serious than the mistakes many of us make in our jobs. But doctors aren't perfect. The key is to make sure your doctor doesn't have a long history of mistakes, and in most cases, the information is out there; you just need to know where to look.
All states have medical licensing boards, and many can be accessed through the internet. The other day I checked a physician's New York license, and I found that state had their records online. If your state doesn't, though, you can call your state's medical board and find out how to get the information you need.
I have a little more information I wanted to pass on, but this post is long enough for now. I'll post the rest of my thoughts on this subject in a day or two.