Some of the most heartbreaking emotions we see in our practice are parents’ misplaced feelings of guilt after their child has been permanently harmed by the carelessness of a physician they chose.
They often lament that things could be different if they had thoroughly checked out a doctor’s background before receiving care for their loved one.
We do very deep investigations into the backgrounds of every potential defendant in the medical malpractice claims we handle, and often get calls from friends, former clients, and other lawyers asking if we have heard anything bad about a doctor in town. To help you investigate a physician’s background for potential problems, we have compiled some valuable resources that can help you make an informed decision.
Start with the physician’s Practitioner Profile with the Florida Department of Health.
The first step in evaluating the profile is to see if it has been verified by the practitioner. Focus on the following categories:
Other State Licensure
Unfortunately, the Florida legislature, in response to heavy lobbying by the medical community, continues to pass laws making it easier for bad physicians to practice medicine in the state. When you see that a physician was licensed in a state that does not correspond with the physician’s educational history (see the following section), look to see if the physician had any problems (lawsuits, disciplinary proceedings, criminal events, etc.,) in the other state that caused the physician to relocate to Florida.
Here is a website Health Guide USA that lists the links to the licensing bodies of other states.
Education and Training, Professional and Postgraduate Training
When reviewing these sections of the profile, you should look to make sure that the practitioner has the appropriate educational background for the area of care they are/were providing. In today’s managed care environment, we frequently see medical mistakes occur when a physician chooses to handle a patient’s problem instead of referring the patient to or consulting with a specialist. Additionally, it can be a red flag when a physician started training in one field of medicine and then switches to an unrelated field.
Check to make sure that the practitioner is certified by the appropriate professional board as a specialist in the applicable field of medicine. Consider it a red flag if a physician is not Board Certified or is practicing in an area of medicine different from the area in which the practitioner is board certified. If the information on the profile is stale, go to the following website certification matters and, after registering, confirm the doctor’s certification.
Here are some other websites through which board certification in a specialty can be confirmed:
Colon & Rectal Surgery
Internal Medicine (and related subspecialties)
Obstetrics & Gynecology
Pediatrics (and related subspecialties)
Psychiatry and Neurology
This section tells you if the practitioner has medical malpractice insurance. Everyone is human and all humans make mistakes. However, professionals should maintain malpractice insurance, not just to cover themselves, but for the sake of their patients. While physicians are grossly being taken advantage of by their medical malpractice insurance carriers (and as a result many do not have sufficient limits of coverage), we have not seen an uninsured physician who did not also have a substantial history of malpractice allegations against them. Most physicians are very well compensated individuals – if a physician has not made provisions to financially address a medical error that permanently harms their patient, you should find one who has.
Disciplinary Action History
Although we rarely see physicians lose their license due to repeated malpractice, our experience suggests that in order to be sanctioned by the state of Florida, a physician has to do something really bad. If the physician has repeated episodes of misconduct, you should find one who does not. Unfortunately, this section of the profile is woefully out of date. Accordingly, you should also check the Board of Medicine’s website to see if there are any proceedings posted there that are omitted from the physician’s profile.
The vast majority of medical malpractice is caused by a very small minority of practitioners. If the physician has a significant claims history, you should probably consider another doctor. Again, accurate information in the profile is frequently missing from this section. Moreover, if the practitioner is employed by the State of Florida (e.g., most UF/Shands physicians), State Law prohibits them from being individually named in a lawsuit – so any amounts paid out as a result of their negligence will not be publicly reported here or anywhere else. When reviewing this section ,you should also check the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation’s Professional Liability Tracking System. This is where payouts made on professional malpractice liability insurance policies are supposed to be reported. Keep in mind that any reported information was provided by the practitioner’s insurance carrier and the reported event is portrayed in the best light. We have also seen events reported where a portion of the payout was made by the practitioner’s employer and the rest by the doctor resulting in an artificially low payout being reported by the doctor responsible for the catastrophic event.