State medical boards are regulatory agencies for physicians. According to the Federation of State Medical Boards, state medical boards issue licenses, investigate complaints, evaluate competency and ethical matters, discipline doctors who violate the law, and oversee their rehabilitation when appropriate. The final ruling in a state medical board's discipline of a doctor is open to the public; you have a right to see the information if you seek it. You can find out if a doctor has been disciplined by contacting the state issuing the license.
Locate the relevant medical board. The Federation of State Medical Boards has an online directory of state medical boards you can consult for the names, addresses, phone numbers, and Internet addresses of medical boards. Depending on the doctor’s credentials, such as medical doctor or doctor of osteopathy, you might have to choose between two medical boards within a state. If you are unsure which board is the right one, try each.
Confirm that the doctor’s license is in good standing by doing a search to verify the license. If there have been discipline rulings against the doctor, that information might be shown on the license profile.
Determine whether the medical board’s Web site posts discipline rulings (sometimes called “board actions”) online. While all 50 states and the District of Columbia have Web sites, not all make discipline information available online. With some states, you will have to contact the board directly with your request for information about disciplinary actions.
Type the doctor’s name in the search engine for online disciplinary records or contact the person listed as the keeper of disciplinary records for the state.
Keep in mind that only the final ruling of the board is required to be available to the public. Some states provide only minimal information. Other states are more transparent. In a handful of states, you can find public records of malpractice judgments as well as disciplinary actions. Remember that malpractice and discipline are not the same thing. Malpractice is a legal term used when a doctor is sued, regardless of how much merit the lawsuit had, and that lawsuits are sometimes settled simply to avoid the expense and time of a trial. A disciplinary action is a decision of the medical board after following up a complaint about the doctor. Malpractice and discipline do not always go hand in hand. If the doctor has practiced in more than one state, you will want to check the record for each state. In that case you might choose to pay a fee for a DocInfo search provided by the Federation of State Medical Boards. In addition to checking a doctor’s license status and discipline record, you might want to make sure the doctor is board certified in their specialty. The American Board of Medical Specialties will provide that information at no charge online or by phone.
Many online sites post profile information about physicians, but that information was often provided by the doctor, who likely paid to have it included there. If the site is different from the medical board or a licensing agency, keep in mind that what you are reading may be only an advertisement.
Phyllis Zorn of Enid, Oklahoma, has been a journalist since 1993, working primarily in Kansas. She is currently at the "Enid News and Eagle." Zorn has also written for "Hays Daily News," "Goodland Daily News," "Atchison Daily Globe," "Salina Journal" and KSAL Radio in Salina, Kansas. Zorn holds a Bachelor of Arts in communication from Kansas Wesleyan University.