How to Check Out a Doctor for Medical Malpractice

Before selecting a doctor, you may want to make sure that they haven't been disciplined in the past by their medical board for unsafe behavior. You make also want to make sure that they haven't had any malpractice suits filed against them. Malpractice suits may be filed if a patient experiences injury, harm, or death due to inappropriate medical care.

Doctor taking notes and sitting with a patient.

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This article explains how to find out if your healthcare provider has ever received complaints or has had a malpractice lawsuit filed against them.

How Do I Find Out if a Doctor Has Complaints?

Finding out if your healthcare provider has ever received any complaints may be a bit tricky. While you may be able to see some ratings or disciplinary information on a healthcare rating website, it may not be complete or current. In some cases, it is up to the healthcare provider to self-report problems, which some may avoid doing.

How Do I Do a Background Search on a Healthcare Provider?

It may take some time to search for information on a healthcare provider, so don't be discouraged if you don't get answers immediately. In some cases, you may need to speak with someone on the phone if you can't find the answers online. To do a background medical search:

  1. Go to the Federation of State Medical Board's Physician Data Center to check the healthcare provider's basic information. This includes education and board certifications, which are additional exams that some doctors take to prove their specialty knowledge. Other information may include what states 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 American Medical Association Doctor 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 and follow this with keywords like "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, so cross-reference whatever information you find.

It is important that you contact every state medical licensing board where 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.

How Do I Make a Qualified Judgment When Selecting a Doctor?

Keep in mind that evaluating a healthcare provider based on their malpractice track record or ratings may not provide the whole story. For example, some rating websites may indicate that a surgeon is "successful." However, some surgeons, in order to keep their ratings high, will not accept high-risk patients. A record that shows a higher failure rate doesn't always mean that a healthcare provider is "less successful."

The same may apply to a malpractice suit. 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.

Try to be objective and focus on finding the best healthcare provider, surgeon, or specialist for your needs and condition. Don't hesitate to ask a healthcare provider about a malpractice suit or other action you may find.

Recap

Keep in mind that ratings from a website, or even a filed malpractice suit may not necessarily reflect a healthcare provider's skills or the level of care given to previous patients. Sometimes low ratings and malpractice suits are filed for reasons beyond a provider's control.

Summary

When searching for a healthcare provider, you may want to see if they have ever received any complaints or have had any malpractice suits filed against them. To search for this information, you can use specific keywords, as well as certain reputable websites.

While found information may be helpful, keep in mind that it may not accurately or fully reflect the healthcare provider's skills or the circumstances around the complaint or lawsuit.

A Word From Verywell

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

You can always ask your healthcare provider directly if they have had a malpractice suit filed against them. Be respectful and follow your gut when it comes to finding the best healthcare provider for your needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is medical malpractice?

    A medical malpractice suit may be legally filed against a medical professional who has caused an injury or death due to insufficient levels of care. These lawsuits may be filed against an individual or an institution, such as a hospital.

  • What constitutes medical malpractice?

    Three things that must be proved in a malpractice suit:

    • That the treatment given was not consistent with the standard of care
    • That the patient suffered an injury as a result of inappropriate treatment
    • That the injury resulted in significant loss or other difficulties
  • How do you report medical malpractice?

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

  • What happens if I 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 is no evidence of negligence.

  • How do I file a malpractice suit?

    You would need to hire a malpractice attorney. A malpractice attorney can advise you if a malpractice claim is actionable and assist you with filing a report with the state medical board.

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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.
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