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Choosing the best doctor

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When it is time to find a new doctor, you want to choose someone you can trust. How can you find out the truth about your doctor? While many doctors are caring, professional, and competent, some are not. Fortunately, there are ways to check a doctor's credentials and standing. Use the resources below to learn about your doctor before you start working together.

Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB)

The FSMB has a list of state medical board websites. You can look up your doctor on the state site to see if he or she is licensed to practice in your state. Not all states provide the same amount of information. Some only share state license and board actions against the doctor. Others include actions taken in other states, medical malpractice, disciplinary actions, awards, and more. If your state doesn't provide this information, you may be able to request it.

Other health care providers, such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants are also licensed by states. Most states have a similar search for all licensed medical providers.

For a more complete picture, you can order a doctor profile from the FSMB for $9.95. The FSMB collects data on doctors, osteopaths, and most physician assistants who are licensed to practice in the U.S. The profile includes:

  • Physician disciplinary sanctions
  • Education: medical school name, year of graduation, and degree earned
  • Medical specialty
  • Location information

HealthGrades

HealthGrades gathers data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and state medical boards. You can use this free website to get information about your doctor, as well as about local hospitals. You can get information on a doctor's:

  • Experience
  • Education and training
  • Procedures performed
  • Conditions treated
  • Malpractice claims, sanctions, and board actions
  • Awards
  • Languages spoken

The site also collects patient satisfaction surveys from site users.

NCQA Recognition Directory

The National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) is a not-for-profit organization committed to improving health care quality. You can search their database of doctors to see who in your area participates in NCQA recognition programs. Participation means that the doctor is focused on providing quality care and follows the latest patient care methods.

Prescriber Checkup and Dollars for Doctors

These pages are run by ProPublica, a nonprofit news organization. ProPublica produces investigative journalism in the public interest. Using Dollars for Doctors, you can check to see whether your doctor has received money from a drug company. With Prescriber Checkup, you can view your doctor's prescribing habits compared to the average doctor. These sites use prescribing data from Medicare Part D. This means that most of the information is based on prescriptions written for older adults and people with disabilities. These groups tend to use more prescription drugs.

Some Things to Keep in Mind

While these sites can help you find out about your doctor, they are not foolproof. Most of the information you will find is from lawsuits that have been settled. If any complaints are still in process, you won't see them. Keep in mind that doctors in certain specialties may be more likely to be sued. And not all lawsuits mean that the doctor did something wrong.

Your health care provider may be a nurse practitioner or physician assistant. There are different sites to check on certification and specialization for these providers.

Use care when reviewing patient satisfaction scores. You are more likely to see telltale trends if a health care provider has been reviewed by 40 people rather than 4. Read the results closely. Poor scores for this office don't necessarily reflect on the health care provider, who may be one of many providers in a busy practice.

References

Federation of State Medical Boards. What is a State Medical Board? Available at: www.fsmb.org/what_is_a_smb.html. Accessed November 20, 2014.

NCQA. NCQA Recognition Directory. Clinical Directory and Search. Available at: http://recognition.ncqa.org/. Accessed November 20, 2014.

Public Citizen. Physician Accountability. Available at: http://www.citizen.org/Page.aspx?pid=1248. Accessed November 20, 2014.


Review Date: 9/18/2014
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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