How to Find Complaints Against a Doctor or Hospital

As we have said in HOW TO FIND AND BUILD YOUR HEALTHCARE TEAM choosing a doctor or hospital is an important decision, so it's wise to arm yourself with information, including information about the backgrounds of your doctors and their hospitals. 

Not all doctors or hospitals are equal, some are better than others and some have better outcomes.  Both the quality of care as well as the level of care will be different from doctor to doctor and from hospital to hospital. So, choose wisely.

Mistakes are made by doctors and hospitals, sometimes innocent and unavoidable ones, but other times because of sloppy practices or lack of care and concern. Doctors and hospitals that make mistakes tend to make more mistakes, putting you at greater risk.

Finding out about formal complaints that have been filed against doctors or hospitals is an important part of your process of selecting the best healthcare team.  There are a few, easy to access resources you should utilize to find out what, if any, formal complaints have been made about the doctor or facility your are considering.

The Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB)

FSMB has compiled a database called, “DocInfo.” This database contains information regarding any disciplinary action taken against any doctor.  This database is nationwide in scope.  There is a small fee to access this database.

State Medical Boards

To practice medicine every state in the United States licenses its physicians and nurses. The state's board of medical licenses handles all disciplinary matters pertaining to their licensees. Penalties range from a temporary suspension of the license to practice medicine to a permanent revocation license depending upon the infraction and the history of prior legitimate complaints.

Many state licensing boards have websites you can access, for free containing information which will allow you to determine whether a board has taken any disciplinary action against a particular doctor you are considering.

If your state does not have a searchable website, you can contact the state licensing board directly. The American Medical Association has compiled a list with contact information for each of the state medical boards. You can find it here: http://www.ama-assn.org/resources/doc/ethics/state-medical-boards.pdf

State Department of Health Services

When trying to evaluate a hospital your state’s department of health services is a good resource.   They keep records of all formal complaints that have been made against any hospital or facility.

Court Records

Although more difficult for you to obtain, if a doctor in your state is sued, there will be a record of it in the court where the complaint was filed. Many court records can be found online, although you will need to do a little preliminary research to figure out what kind of information is actually available online in your state and in what court the suite was filed.

Court records can be problematic when you use them in the process of evaluating a doctor. Anybody can sue anyone and sometimes patients sue their doctor because of an unrelated or made up issue.  Even in situations where courts have “thrown out” lawsuits because there was not any malpractice there is still a record of the doctor having been sued. So, be careful in making evaluations based on the existence of a civil court action against a doctor or hospital.

Bottom line: Being sued does not mean that there was ever any sort of medical error made by the doctor. Ornery patients have sued many good physicians without cause, and many of those lawsuits have been dismissed as frivolous, but their record still remains.

Physician Grades

There are organizations whose purpose is to rate the quality of physicians. One of these is the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA). This group gathers data about the quality of care that doctors provide to their patients. They then base a doctor’s grade on the information they receive.

Health Insurance Evaluations

Some health insurance companies provide information about their physicians, such as their education, specialty, and work history. This information may be available on your insurance company’s website, or over the phone.

Do Your Homework – No Short Cuts Allowed

Choosing a healthcare provider, or a hospital is important. Do your homework; it is well worth your time and energy.  Make sure you read our section on HOW TO FIND AND BUILD YOUR HEALTHCARE TEAM.