Have you ever wondered: Has my doctor been disciplined by a state medical board? Where did my doctor go to medical school? What is my doctor's medical education? Is my doctor board certified? Has my doctor's license or hospital privileges ever been suspended, limited or revoked?
What you don't know can kill you. It's your job to find out who the bad doctors are, and make sure that you go to a good one.
The malpractice data from the National Practitioner Data Bank shows that 4,904 doctors each made three or more New York malpractice payments from 1992 to 2008 for a total of $5.2 billion. That means that less than 7 percent of some 62,270 New York doctors accounted for half the total malpractice amount.
Data from the National Practitioner Data Bank indicate that just 6 percent of doctors are responsible for 58 percent of all negligence claims. ("The Great Medical Malpractice Hoax: National Practitioner Data Bank Data Continue to Show Medical Liability System Produces Rational Outcomes," Public Citizen, January, 2007). 82 percent of doctors have never had a medical malpractice payment.
Following are four secrets that your doctor will hide from you. It's up to you to get this information.
Secret #1: If your doctor is not board certified in his medical specialty, he will not tell you.
If a doctor is board certified, this means that he or she has graduated from medical school, completed residency (training in a hospital), trained under supervision in a specialty, and passed a national examination given by a medical specialty board. The American Board of Medical Specialists ("ABMS") assists 24 approved medical specialty boards in the development and use of standards in the evaluation and certification of physicians.
Board certification is a nationwide testing process that requires physicians to pass an oral and written test; this test ensures that your doctor has the basic, minimum competence in his medical specialty. If your doctor is not board certified in his medical specialty, you should be very leery about using him as your doctor. Many hospitals will not issue admitting privileges to physicians who are not board certified in their medical specialty. If your physician is not board certified in a medical specialty, this is a bad sign and you should find a new doctor.
To find out if you doctor is board certified, contact the American Board of Medical Specialties Certification Verification Service at 1-866-275-2267. The official ABMS directory of Board Certified Medical Specialists lists doctors' names along with their specialties and their educational backgrounds. ABMS offers this information at
Log onto www.op.nysed.gov. Scroll down to on-line license verification and enter #60 for physicians. Scroll down to Office of Professional Medical Conduct. Double click, and scroll down and click on physician search. Enter name. If you cannot find a particular doctor, call he Physician Profile Help Desk at 1-888-338-6999.
Go back to the home page where you originally found your doctor's name and license information. Then scroll down to the American Medical Association (AMA) "Physician Select-Doc Finder." Double click. Enter your doctor's name and you will get the school attended, year graduated, where affiliated, and board certification.
Additional information about physicians can be found on the following websites: American Board of Medical Specialties; American Medical Association-AMA Physician Select, On-Line Doctor Finder; Federation of State Medical Boards; New York State Department of Health Physician Profiles; and CLEAR (Counsel on Licensure, Enforcement and Regulation).
Secret #2: If your doctor has been suspended or reprimanded by a licensing authority, he will not tell you.
You must make sure your doctor has never been the subject of a disciplinary proceeding or has had his license suspended, limited or revoked. Some physicians must be monitored by another doctor based upon disciplinary actions brought against them by the state agency that regulates physicians. i.e., the New York State Department of Health. However, those physicians will not tell you about their problems with the state licensing authority. You must do your own research on the internet.
Complaints against physicians are public information if they result in a final disciplinary action. To learn if a physician has been disciplined, call OPMC at 1-800-663-6114 or access the Medical Conduct website at
www.health.state.ny.us (select "Information for Consumers").
New York's Patient Health Information and Quality Improvement Act of 2000 made it possible for all citizens of New York to get information about physicians through the State Physicians Profile website, www.nydoctorprofile.com. To search for the latest discipline actions against physicians, physicians' assistants an specialist assistants, check the website of the New York State Department of Health's Office of Professional Medical Conduct at www.nydoctorprofile.com. The OPMC website posts public documents regarding professional misconduct, and physician discipline actions taken.
The nydoctorprofile.com website provides information about the doctor's number of medical malpractice payments, the date of the payments, the court and county where the payments were made, and the "significance of the payments" relative to the average settlement amounts of other physicians.
On the OPMC website at www.health.state.ny.us, you can click the links for "Search for a Disciplined Physician", "File a Complaint' and "Contact OPMC". If your physician has been disciplined by the OPMC, the website will provide information about the "Misconduct Description" and "License Restriction" and a copy of the Hearing Committee's Determination and Order, Factual Allegations, and Findings of Fact against the physician are posted in a PDF attachment.
The section of www.health.state.ny.us that is entitled, "Disciplinary Action". provides a listing of all physicians, physicians' assistants and specialist assistants who have been disciplined since 1990. For information about physicians disciplined before 1990, call 1-800-663-6114, e-mail [email protected], or write to the New York State Department of Health, Office of Professional Medical Conduct, 433 River Street, Suite 303, Troy, New York 12180.
Effective November 3, 2008, both the charges filed against a physician and the Board's Determination and Order regarding all charges are to be made public. Pending or dismissed complaints and the investigative file materials from all cases are not accessible to the public.
Ask your doctor for his resume, also known a curriculum vitae. The doctor should not hesitate to give you his resume if he is proud of his professional accomplishments and has nothing to hide.
Secret # 3: If your doctor has lost his privileges at a hospital (and has no ability to admit you to the hospital), he will not tell you.
Admitting privileges give the doctor the ability to admit you to the hospital for testing and monitor and surgery, if necessary. 49% of U.S. hospitals have never reported a single disciplinary action against one of their doctors, since the National Practitioner Data Bank was created in 1990. (Annual Report, 2006, National Practitioner Data Bank).
Hospitals are required by law to report whenever they lift a physician's privileges for at least 31 days for medical incompetence or misconduct. In two decades, surely more than half of the country's hospitals have taken such action against doctors. Hospitals, which face no fine for failing to report, are not especially eager to turn in their doctors. Some hospitals impose only 30-day suspensions to get around the 31-day rule.
To search for the latest discipline actions against physicians, physicians' assistants and specialist assistants, check the New York State Department of Health's Office of Professional Medical Conduct homepage at www.health.state.ny.us. The OPMC website posts public documents regarding professional misconduct, and the physician discipline actions taken.
The OPMC website offers valuable information in section entitled, "Out-of-State Actions", Current Limitation", Hospital Privilege Restrictions" and Criminal Convictions". The OPMC website also provides information about your doctor's medical school, graduate medical education, whether the doctor is board certified, the date of board certification and professional memberships.
The section of the OPMC website entitled, "Legal Actions", provides information about lawsuits that have resulted in a determination adverse to the doctor. The OPMC website provides information about licensing actions taken against doctors. If you would like to see if there have been any license actions taken against your doctor over the past ten years the OPMC website provides this information.
Secret #4: If your doctor has made multiple malpractice payments, he will not tell you.
Contrary to public perception, lawsuits are not settled by physicians when the case against them has no merit. IF your doctor has settled more than one or two cases in his career, he may not be a skilled physician.
You should find out whether your doctor has been sued and if so, whether your doctor had to settle the lawsuit. While some very good doctors are sued, it is only the strongest cases that are settled. It is more important to find out whether your doctor has paid money to settle a lawsuit, than to find out whether he has been sued.
A simple and easy way to determine if you doctor has been sued is to visit the OPMC website under the section entitled, "Legal Actions", and "Out-of-State Actions". However, lawsuits against physicians are often not reported to the Office of Professional Medical Conduct.
Another way to check for lawsuits against your doctor is to visit the County Clerk's Office of the county where your doctor has his office and if you are ambitious, the counties surrounding to county where your doctor has his office. The computer terminals in the County Clerk's office will have information about lawsuits against individuals, and once you obtain the index number for a court file, you can ask the County Clerk to review all of the court documents in the lawsuits.