When the person in your care has a medical issue, you want a first-rate specialist with experience and a great track record. But everyone looks professional in a lab coat. How can you tell a top doc from one the state medical board has put on probation?
Without research, you can’t.
There is no national public record that reveals which doctors have been disciplined or are among the 1 percent of U.S. doctors responsible for 32 percent of malpractice payouts. A doctor disciplined in one state may be practicing in another. And doctors on probation are not obliged to tell patients.
Put the odds in your favor. Here’s how to make sure your loved one is in competent hands.
Finding a Doctor
Step 1. Shop around
- Ask the care recipient’s general practitioner and other doctors to recommend a local specialist.
- Talk to friends, neighbors and people in your caregiver’s support group who have faced the same medical issue. Their stories — good or bad — will be useful.
- Most city magazines have an annual issue on the area’s best doctors. It’s always worth a read.
Step 2. Check out recommended doctors
- First stop: the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) website. Type in the name of the doctor and state in order to find out if any disciplinary actions have been taken against him or her. You can also find out where the doctor went to medical school, if he or she is board certified and in which states he or she is licensed.
- Look at online ratings by patients. They are subjective, but repeated complaints are a red flag.
- If surgery is required, go to SurgeonRatings.org, a consumer-funded national database that is free of charge. Click on the needed operation to get a list of surgeons in your area. Doctors are rated based on the risk-adjusted number of surgery-related deaths, prolonged hospital stays and readmissions. The surgeon’s record is compared with the national average. Board certifications and the hospitals at which the surgeon operates are also listed.
Step 3. Arrange a meeting
When you find a surgeon or specialist who looks good on paper, confirm that the doctor accepts your health insurance plan, including Medicare, Medicaid or private health insurance. If you get a go-ahead, make an office appointment.