How to Check Out a Doctor for Medical Malpractice

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

Midsection Of Doctor Discussing With Patient At Table In Clinic
Audtakorn Sutarmjam / EyeEm / Getty Images

Information Sources

The information you seek may not be easy to find. While many of the directory listings or healthcare provider rating websites provide some disciplinary information, rarely is it complete or current. In some cases, it is up to the healthcare providers to self-report problems, and malpractice is one thing they'll be least likely to divulge

The best source of information is the state medical licensing board, although you will need to check each state where the healthcare provider had practiced. To find that, use the AMA Doc Finder managed by the American Medical Association.

How to Do a Background Search

The background search of a healthcare provider's medical history takes time, so don't be discouraged if you don't get your answers immediately. In some cases, you may need to speak with someone on the phone; in others, you may find what you need online. To do a background medical search:

  1. Go to the Federation of State Medical Board's Healthcare Provider Data Center website to check the healthcare provider's basic information including board certifications, education, the listed states where an active license is maintained, and any actions against the healthcare provider.
  2. Check the state's medical licensing board for your state and anywhere the healthcare provider has practiced using the AMA Doc Finder. If you find a healthcare provider's license has been suspended, that generally means that there has been an actionable offense.
  3. Do an online search. Place quotation marks around the healthcare provider's name to keep the phrase intact (such as "Dr. John Smith") and follow this with such keywords as "malpractice," "lawsuit," "sanction," "complaint," or "suspension." Start by using only one keyword at a time. You can use more as you widen your search.

Remember that there may be more than one healthcare provider with the same name. Cross-reference whatever information you have to ensure you don't make a mistake.

It is important that you contact every state medical licensing board under which the healthcare provider has practiced, not just your own. Malpractice suits and disciplinary actions do not always get transferred from one licensing board to the next.

The sad truth is that a healthcare provider can amass a malpractice track record in one state, get licensed in a new state, and start again with a clean slate. As such, you need to do your homework to ensure you get the fullest body of evidence possible.

Making a Qualified Judgment

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

For example, some of rankings websites may indicate that 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 high-risk patients. A record that shows a higher failure rate doesn't always mean that a healthcare provider is "less successful."

The same applies to the uncovering of a malpractice suit. While it can steer you well away from a less-than-reputable healthcare provider, it can also lead to wrong assumptions.

As much as a malpractice suit may be a red flag, it doesn't necessarily mean that it was justified. It is not unusual for a suit to be filed for a death or injury beyond a healthcare provider's control. Be fair and speak with the healthcare provider rather than making a wrong assumption.

The main thing is to be objective and goal-oriented. The goal is not to uncover dirt; it is to find you the best healthcare provider, surgeon, or specialist for your needs and condition. To this end, don't hesitate to ask a healthcare provider about a malpractice suit or other action you may find.

While you may not get the answers you need, you at least have the opportunity to make an informed judgment based on all of the facts you've received.

A Word From Verywell

Upon completing a background search, don't be disappointed if you end up with scant information. It may mean that the healthcare provider has a clean record, or it may be that an infraction has been legally removed.

For example, if a lawsuit has been settled out of court, it may be removed since the claim will have been withdrawn. It doesn't mean that the healthcare provider was in the wrong (sometimes it's cheaper to settle than to incur expensive legal fees) and doesn't mean that the healthcare provider is right.

If you don't have any information about a healthcare provider, go the direct route and simply ask if he or she has ever been hit with a malpractice suit, civil action, or disciplinary action. It's your right to know. Be respectful and simply let your instinct tell you what makes sense and what doesn't.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is medical malpractice?

    Medical malpractice is a legal action taken against a medical professional who has caused an injury or death due to negligence or a deviation from standard medical practices. Medical malpractice can be filed against an individual or an institution (such as a hospital).

  • What constitutes medical malpractice?

    Broadly speaking, the plaintiff must prove three things in a malpractice suit:

    • That the treatment used was not consistent with the standard of care
    • That the party suffered an injury as a result of a deviation from the standard of care
    • That the injury resulted in significant loss, either in the way of suffering, disability, loss of income, financial hardship, or other difficulties
  • How do you check a healthcare provider for malpractice?

    Arguably, the best way to check if a healthcare provider has been sued for malpractice or has been subject to any disciplinary action is to contact your state medical board. A list of state boards' contact information is offered by the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB).

  • How do your report medical malpractice?

    All medical errors should be reported to the state's medical board. The board will provide you details as to what is needed for the complaint, which can vary by state.

  • What happens if a file a malpractice report?

    Once a malpractice report is filed, the healthcare provider or hospital (and associated insurance company) will be contacted by the state medical board. If there is evidence of malpractice, you may be contacted by the insurance company about a settlement. However, filing a report does not mean you will get a response, particularly if the board determines there was no evidence of negligence.

  • How do I file a malpractice suit?

    You would need to hire a malpractice attorney. Finding a reputable one can be tricky, but your insurance company can sometimes help as can your state or local bar association. A malpractice attorney can also advise you upfront if a malpractice claim is actionable and assist you when filing a report with the state medical board.

Was this page helpful?
3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Bal BS. An introduction to medical malpractice in the United StatesClin Orthop Relat Res. 2009;467(2):339–347. doi:10.1007/s11999-008-0636-2

  2. Jena AB, Seabury S, Lakdawalla D, Chandra A. Malpractice risk according to physician specialty. N Engl J Med. 2011;365(7):629–636. doi:10.1056/NEJMsa1012370

  3. Bono MJ, Wermuth HR, Hipskind JE. Medical malpractice. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Updated November 15, 2020.