(NewsNation) — Many in the United States find their general practitioner and even some specialists based on recommendations from family, friends and other healthcare providers — a doctor who is nearby and in-network. But what if the doctor has a disciplinary record that you don’t know about?
Medical errors are among the leading causes of death in the United States. According to a 2016 study from Johns Hopkins University, an estimated 250,000 people in the U.S. die as a result of medical errors each year.
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But only 1% of physicians account for more than one third of all malpractice claims that are paid out, a 2019 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found.
So how do you know if your doctor has a clean record?
The best data available comes from state medical boards — the agencies responsible for licensing, investigating and disciplining medical professionals in your state.
Doctors can be disciplined for a number of reasons including medical negligence, sexual misconduct, misprescribing medication and criminal convictions outside their medical practice.
Punishments can be as minor as a reprimand or as serious as revoking a physician’s license.
Note: Disciplinary actions brought by state medical boards and malpractice lawsuits are not the same. Malpractice cases are often settled without formally determining whether a health care provider was at fault and most are resolved outside the courtroom.
The easiest way to check your doctor’s license status and disciplinary record is at DocInfo.org. The database draws from the Federation of State Medical Board’s Physician Data Center and allows you to look up any disciplinary history of doctors in each state.
Rather than rely on patient reviews, DocInfo aggregates data from the state medical boards that conduct the investigations. The website is free and also includes information on physician assistants.
state medical boards
You can also learn about your doctor by going directly to the state medical board’s website. Although the level of detail varies from state to state, the records on these websites often have more specific information regarding investigations and complaints.
All you have to do is type in your doctor’s first and last name to see if they are in good standing.
You can find a full list of state medical board websites here.
Note: Some states have different boards for medical doctors (M.D.) and doctors of osteopathic medicine (D.O.). Make sure you know your doctor’s license type to be sure you’re looking in the right place.
Monthly action reports
Many state medical boards publish monthly disciplinary reports, outlining all actions taken against medical professionals over that period. Although you cannot look-up a specific doctor by name, these lists can be helpful for seeing which violations are most common and how medical boards typically respond.
To find out if your doctor has been sued for medical malpractice — different from disciplinary action by a state medical board— you can search civil case filings in your state. In many states, these records are available online.
If you know a lawsuit exists but are unable to find it online, you can call the county clerk in the area where the doctor practices and ask for a copy. Of course, some lawsuits are confidential but it never hurts to ask.
Remember: just because a lawsuit was filed does not mean the doctor was found guilty of malpractice.
This story is part of NewsNation’s investigation into the tangled web of state medical malpractice laws that can make it difficult for patients and family members to file lawsuits against doctors they believe were medically negligent. Find all of our coverage on the topic here.