How to Uncover Malpractice Suits Against Doctors

Researching suits against doctors may worth the effort

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Alexey Kuzma/Stocksy United

Checking a doctor's history of malpractice suits and disciplinary actions can help guide you in choosing a doctor. When you need difficult medical testing or treatment, you must choose your doctor wisely. You'll want to do some research about the doctor to be sure his credentials, experience, and abilities meet your needs.

This information may not be easy to find. The best source is the state medical licensing board, but you will need to check each state where the physician has practiced. While many of the directory listings or doctors' rating websites provide some disciplinary information, rarely is it complete or current. In some cases, it is up to the doctors themselves to self-report problems, so you can imagine how incomplete that information may be.

How to Research Malpractice Suits and Disciplinary Actions Online

This kind of search is intended to find any unusual, legal, or newsworthy information there is to find.

  • Begin by choosing a specific doctor to research.
  • Go first the Federation of State Medical Boards website to check the basics with their DocInfo.org search function. You will find the doctor's board certifications, education, states with active licenses, and any actions against the physician.
  • Go to the state's medical licensing board for your state and any where the doctor has practiced. Search for the doctor, using his or her name or location.
  • You may or may not find relevant information in your state's license lookup. If you find a doctor's license has been suspended, then that is your answer. For others, you may still be able to find some basics. However, this information is probably not current, so you'll want to look further.
  • Leverage any basics you find into more information by doing a search in a search engine. Place quotation marks around the doctor's name to keep the phrase intact, such as "Dr. John Smith." Follow this with additional identifiers, such as the words malpractice, lawsuit, sanction, or problem. You may also use the word blog or news as it could turn up even more information, including other states in which he may have been licensed and practiced previously.
  • For malpractice information purposes, ignore any information provided by the doctor himself, such as press releases or a personal website.
  • There may be more than one doctor with the same name as the doctor you are researching. Double check that you are getting information about the right one in the right place.

One problem is that a doctor can amass a malpractice track record in one state, but pull up stakes and move to another state, get licensed, and begin again with a clean slate. Malpractice in one state may not appear on the new state licensing record.

What Does a Doctor's Track Record Really Mean?

Even when malpractice or disciplinary information can be found, it may require an explanation of terminology or circumstances. Judging a doctor simply on that doctor's malpractice track record may not provide the whole story.

For example, some of the physician's ratings or rankings sites provide indicators of how often a surgeon is "successful." What they don't tell you is that some surgeons, in order to keep their ratings high, will not accept certain patients that may be at higher risk for problems. A surgeon who is willing to take different risks may be a better choice for some patients, even though her record shows a higher failure rate.

Certain specialties require a clearer look, perhaps based on a patient's expectations rather than a real problem with the doctor. A pregnant woman who had no prenatal care during pregnancy may file suit against her obstetrician if the baby is born with an abnormality. You may find she has blogged about the lawsuit and how terrible that doctor was. What you aren't reading is that she was at risk for problems with her baby, to begin with, and the doctor may have done all she could to improve the situation. You may also not know that the lawsuit was later dismissed. The doctor's reputation will be sullied because the patient didn't take responsibility.

Once problems move into the realm of the law, where lawsuits are filed, settled early, dismissed, or won, it becomes difficult to get all the details you may want. Hunting for malpractice or disciplinary information is worth the trouble, even if it is incomplete. Taking the time to check on malpractice and disciplinary records will help you make important doctor choice decisions.