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Your Health: Avoid the dangerous doctor

There are bad doctors, just as there are bad lawyers, bad accountants, and bad congressmen. It is extremely difficult to find out if your doctor is “bad”. There are some clear indicia that a doctor may not be the right one for you.

Every state has a medical board that licenses physicians. In Georgia, it’s the Composite Board of Medicine. There is a public website where basic information about every doctor can be found: education, training, hospital affiliations, specialty boards. If the doctor has been disciplined by the Medical Board there is a link to the public discipline, although in our experience the Medical Board conveniently fails to put all of their published orders on the website and makes you call the Board to get the document. Unfortunately, those public discipline records are few and far between. Those records may tell us that a doctor had a drug or alcohol problem. Sometime, but rarely, you can find an instance in which a doctor actually harmed a patient.

Besides the negative information that can be found on the Board’s website is some potentially useful information. In Georgia you can find out where the doctor went to college, where he or she went to medical school and the training the doctor received after medical school. There are plenty of good doctors who didn’t go to Harvard medical school. What is vitally important is what type of training the doctor received and whether the doctor is “board certified”. Training for a doctor is a residency, where the new doctor works under the direct supervision of a fully trained doctor, called an attending, and gets on the job training. Over the training period the young doctor is given more and more responsibility.

A doctor can hang out a shingle after a single year of internship, which is not much at all. You do not want to go to that doctor. You want to go to a doctor who has completed a full residency, the length of which varies with the specialty. A doctor who has completed a residency program and has a certain amount of training is eligible to become “board certified”. There are 24 boards generally recognized by the medical community. To become board certified the doctor, after completing specialized training, must take both an oral and written examination. Only by passing those exams can the doctor be boarded.

There are many “boards” that a doctor can list on his resume that are not generally recognized by the medical profession. The American Board of Medical Specialties will tell you whether your doctor is certified and, if so, in which specialties. If the doctor lists a board not on that list, that doctor is not considered “boarded”. While there are some very competent doctors who are not certified, your first choice should to a doctor who is board certified by a recognized board.

Non-boarded doctors can be dangerous. We have seen instances in which a doctor who trained to be an emergency room doctor (but who did not complete that training), decided to do plastic surgery. The reason we know about those doctors is because the victims of their malpractice came to us for assistance. Frequently those doctors prey on the Spanish speaking community who are happy to find a medical practice where everyone speaks their language. The patients who had plastic surgery from that doctor were at great risk.

You can try to find out if the doctor has been sued more than once. But again, that information is hard to come by. The Georgia Medical Board requires some disclosure about settlements or judgments, but not much information can be gleaned from that report. Just because a doctor has been sued, however, does not mean that she is not a good doctor, since many malpractice cases end up with the doctor winning. It is just something that every patient should be aware of.