How To Find Complaints Against a Doctor

Whether you're choosing a physician or considering a medical malpractice lawsuit, here's how to research a doctor's history.

Updated by , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

Researching the history of complaints filed against a particular doctor can benefit current and prospective patients in a number of ways, from choosing a physician to building a medical malpractice lawsuit. Knowing what to look for and where to search for information on doctors and other health care professionals is essential, and that's where this article comes in.

Medical Malpractice and Professional Misconduct

According to the American Medical Association and the Federation of State Medical Boards, a doctor's unprofessional conduct can include:

  • patient abuse
  • inadequate record keeping
  • failure to provide treatment in line with the standard of care
  • prescribing drugs in excess or without legitimate reason
  • failing to meet continuing medical education requirements
  • dishonesty
  • conviction of a felony, and
  • delegating the practice of medicine to an unlicensed individual

It's important to note that even if a particular doctor has a history of professional misconduct, or he or she has been the defendant in a medical malpractice lawsuit, that kind of information won't typically help you when it's time to prove your medical malpractice case over your own alleged harm.

The American Medical Association

The largest association of physicians in the U.S. is the American Medical Association (AMA). The AMA is a good place to investigate general standards to which all doctors should adhere. Check out the AMA's Patient Resources for more information.

But note that the AMA itself doesn't investigate or make available any complaints of misconduct or unethical behavior by doctors, declaring that the organization "is bound by due process in all matters related to complaints and generally does not have the legal authority or possess the proper resources to investigate individual cases."

Instead, the AMA advises that "grievances against a medical professional who you believe is acting unethically or not providing a certain standard of care should be directed to your state medical licensing board."

State Medical Licensing Boards

Physicians are required to be licensed in any state in which they practice. In addition to granting licenses, governmental licensing agencies often collect data on malpractice lawsuits and other complaints against doctors. This information may be available online, or through offline channels. Check out this compilation of state medical board contact information (from the Federation of State Medical Boards.)

Keep in mind that if a doctor or other health care professional is licensed to practice in State A, and racks up a laundry list of complaints with State A's medical board—perhaps the doctor is even the defendant in a medical malpractice lawsuit or two—there's nothing to stop that doctor from getting licensed in State B. And from the perspective of State B's medical board, that doctor might have a clean record.

Local Medical Boards and Associations

Many states and counties have their own associations and regulatory bodies for medical professionals. These boards might not be responsible for licensing, but will often at least concern themselves with complaints and a physician's adherence to professional standards. Local physicians might join these organizations by choice, or they might be compelled to join by virtue of their practicing medicine locally. As these boards' databases of physicians will be much smaller, a search for physicians might include your entire area rather than a single physician.

Here are a few examples of local medical boards and associations:

The Better Business Bureau

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) gathers information on all businesses within a specific area. While it will not have information on medical complaints, it will have information on a physician's practice, such as illegal collection procedures, billing complaints and other information. The BBB is a great place to check on a physician's general business operations.

Hospital Records

Most states require hospitals and other treatment facilities to maintain records of all complaints filed against their physicians, their employees, and against the facility itself. These documents would typically be held by the patient rights' department or grievance committee. Access to these records may be difficult, but is usually obtainable through petition to the hospital's board of governors.

Going Beyond Research

Doing research on a doctor or other health care provider is one thing. But if you think you might have a viable medical malpractice case, your best first step might be talking with an attorney to discuss your options. Learn more about finding the right medical malpractice lawyer.

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