Health & Fitness

How to research your doctor's practice history

Ask doctors questions about their surgical outcomes, readmission rate for complications from surgery and malpractice history.
Ask doctors questions about their surgical outcomes, readmission rate for complications from surgery and malpractice history. Getty Images

We spend hours perusing websites to find a good restaurant, but we often don’t take the same care researching the doctors in charge of our health.

People frequently find a doctor through a friend’s recommendation or on an online review site, but those are starting points.

While there’s not an all-encompassing database to evaluate doctors, there are several steps patients can take to assess doctors beyond their bedside manners to get a fuller picture of their practice history.

Here are some tools and tricks to vet your doctor:

Check Kansas State Board of Healing Arts

The Kansas State Board of Healing Arts is a disciplinary board that oversees 14 professions, including medical doctors and osteopathic doctors.

The board’s website (www.ksbha.org) allows individuals to view doctor licensing and disciplinary information by the board.

“It’s important to know if your doctor had some serious disciplinary event happen,” said Kelli Stevens, general counsel for the Kansas State Board of Healing Arts.

But she said some disciplinary actions don’t always amount to poor practice. To illustrate her point, she said that when the board fines a doctor for missing an education deadline, that is merely a slap on the wrist rather than medical malpractice.

It’s important for patients to “maintain perspective about what they see,” Stevens said.

The board operates on a complaint-driven basis, so Stevens said that it’s vital for the public to inform the board about grievances against a provider.

But for the board to investigate, there must be alleged illegal behavior.

“We get a lot of complaints about waiting room times and doctor staff being abrupt or rude,” she said. “That’s not always something that rises to the level of being a violation of Kansas law.”

As such, the board can’t offer opinions on each doctor.

“One thing people are confused about is they think we can recommend a doctor or tell them who’s best and we can’t tell them that kind of thing,” Stevens said.

There’s no public catch-all database for medical boards in all 50 states. For a list of governing boards across the country, visit the American Medical Association (www.ama-assn.org, and search “state medical boards.”)

Several other boards, such as the state Board of Nursing, Board of Dental Examiners and Board of Optometry, oversee practices not covered by the Board of Healing Arts.

Look up your doctor’s hospital privileges

Hospitals in Kansas require doctors to be primary source verified. Primary source verification is a rigorous process of ensuring a provider’s credentials are authentic, accurate and up-to-date.

The verification is not public information, but because all hospitals require it, a provider’s hospital privileges show they have been verified.

“I think it’s a challenge for any patient to gather what I consider significant data or applicable data on their providers to make sure they’re clinically competent,” said Vicki Bond, chief operating officer for Medical Provider Resources.

Medical Provider Resources is a primary source verification organization in Sedgwick County. Medical Provider Resources contracts with 57 facilities around the state, including all hospitals in Wichita.

Those hospital affiliations also determine which hospital a patient goes to for care from that doctor.

“If they go to a hospital, they’re assured those providers are checked out,” she said. “But if they go to an office, then they’re not assured those providers have been vetted.”

Bond said many primary care physicians are starting to drop their hospital privileges, making it more difficult for patients to know whether the physician has been verified.

The physician compare function on Medicare.gov lists a doctor’s hospital affiliations.

The site also has a provider’s contact information, education and group affiliations.

Medical Society of Sedgwick County Directory

The Medical Society of Sedgwick County is a voluntary association for health care providers and is the parent organization of Medical Provider Resources.

“It’s frustrating for patients to waste time and money pursuing care from individuals who purport to have skills that, in actuality, they don’t,” said Jon Rosell, executive director for the Medical Society of Sedgwick County.

The medical society (www.mssconline.org) compiles a provider directory, which lists credentials that meet a standard set by the society. One of the credentials it lists is board certification.

It’s not required that providers receive board certification, but the certification provides another layer of credibility and shows the provider passed extra testing on a particular subject.

The Medical Society of Sedgwick County only accepts board certification from three entities: the American Board of Medical Specialties, the American Osteopathic Association or the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.

“Physicians can obtain additional training that’s very valuable and very important,” Rosell said. “But we hold a high standard that we will only recognize board certification training that’s recognized by those three entities.”

Rosell said the society ensures its members meet standards for competence, knowledge and conduct.

“All the board certifications are national in scope, so board certification in Nebraska would be just as meaningful as board certification in Kansas,” Rosell said.

Insurance panels

Rosell said insurance panels or companies pose another layer of physician accountability.

“Insurance panels will also vet physicians, and if they’re not of a certain quality, they won’t be included,” he said.

So simply checking the number of insurance plans a physician accepts could shed light on a provider. Many physicians list insurance companies they work with on their websites, but patients can also call the provider’s office to find out.

Questions to ask your doctor

Bond, of Medical Provider Resources, said there are some helpful questions patients can ask their doctor.

For example, for surgeons, she said patients should ask about the doctor’s surgical outcomes, readmission rate for complications from surgery and malpractice history.

She said Wichita is lucky to have great providers, but “without knowing what those outcomes are, you’re just being referred from a word-of-mouth recommendation.”

Dollars for docs

ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom committed to investigative journalism, produced a database called Dollars for Docs (www.propublica.org/data) that tracked payments made to doctors by pharmaceutical and medical device companies.

The database allows users to search by doctor name and shows a payment breakdown by drug and product name.

Prescriber checkup

Another database produced by ProPublica called Prescriber Checkup compiles data about drugs prescribed by doctors in Medicare Part D, the prescription-drug program.

The database shows detailed information about each doctor’s prescribing habits and provides prescribing habit comparisons of peer-doctor comparisons. Patients can use the tool to see how their doctor’s prescription patterns compare to other doctors in their field.

Patient-review sites

Patient-review sites such as RateMDs.com can be helpful for patient feedback about physicians, but generally speak to the provider’s bedside manners rather than practice history.

Reach Gabriella Dunn at 316-268-6400 or gdunn@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @gabriella_dunn.

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