I am sometimes amazed how people find and choose their doctors. You do want a good and competent doctor don’t you? Sometimes you have no options…you are admitted to the hospital with stomach pain, diagnosed with appendicitis and need emergency surgery. In those cases you agree to take whichever general surgeon is offered by the hospital. But what about those cases where you have time to consider and select a doctor? How do you go about finding the surgeon to fix your hiatal hernia…perform elective back surgery…or replace your hip or knee?
This article will provide information sources and comments which will help you become an informed patient and find a “good doctor.”
1. Search for your doctor on the Virginia Department of Health Professions. This site provides a wealth of information. First, it tells you whether your doctor is licensed to practice in Virginia. Second, it discloses where your potential doctor went to medical school, post-medical school residency, and fellowships. If your American born doctor went to medical school in Aruba, Grenada, or Belize, I suggest they were unsuccessful in gaining admission to any medical school in the United States…not impressive. As a general rule, do not select those doctors. Third, this site discloses whether the physician you are considering has ever had an adverse action taken against his/her medical license by the Commonwealth of Virginia. Adverse actions can be anything between failing to keep accurate patient records to situations where the doctor has an alcohol or drug addiction which negatively impacted patient care. Finally, this site may tell you if the doctor you are considering has ever been successfully sued for medical malpractice. However, this section of the site contains information “self- reported” by the physician so it is not always accurate…more on lawsuits against your potential doctor later.
2. Age and Experience. The older we get the younger all of the healthcare professionals look. This truism aside, age matters…on both ends of the spectrum of life and a medical career. You don’t want a doctor who graduated medical school 5 years ago if you can help it because that doctor doesn’t have the necessary “on-the-job” experience to deal with complicated medical issues. Likewise, you don’t want a 70 year old doctor fusing the vertebrae in your low back as it is unlikely that doctor has kept up with modern surgical techniques. General medical experience is important but so is experience with the specific surgery or condition for which you are searching for a doctor. If I need a doctor who is removing a brain tumor or a mass pressing on my spinal cord, I want a doctor who has performed that same procedure many, many, many times. I also want to know the success rate my potential doctor has had with the surgery…not what the national averages are for the success of the surgery but my potential doctor’s success rate. If he/she will not answer that question I suggest moving to another doctor.
3. Membership in professional organizations for their specialty. In short, you want to select a doctor who keeps up on the literature and developments in his/her area of practice. Here is a list of medical associations based in the United States. Many of these associations have a web site listing their members by name and location of practice. Also, many doctors will gladly provide you with a list of the professional associations for which they are members.
4. Lawsuits. I promised (above) to provide more information on previous medical malpractice lawsuits against doctors you may be considering to be your doctor. Just because a doctor has been sued (successfully or unsuccessfully) does not necessarily mean they are incompetent or bad doctors. There are certain “high risk” medical specialties which simply leads to lawsuits. The high risk specialties include neurosurgery, general surgery, orthopedic surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, among others. With my concession that a previous lawsuit against the doctor you are considering should not rule out the doctor, there are easy ways to check on whether the doctor has been sued and, if so, how many times. Almost all of the Circuit Courts in Virginia are online and can be searched by the public to see if the doctor you are considering has been sued. Here are the easy and fast steps to follow:
a.) Go to the Virginia Judicial System web site
b.) Click on Case Status and Information
c.) Under Circuit Court, click on case information
d.) Hit the drop down key and pick which jurisdiction (court) you would like to search & hit begin. You want the city or town where the doctor’s office is located or the location of the hospital at which the doctor has privileges.
e.) You will be at the main menu. Check Civil and type in the doctor’s name (last name, first name) and hit search by name
f.) You will just need to scroll through the names (names are in alphabetical order).
My Take: Do your research and find a good competent doctor…your life just might depend on it.