Preventing Medical Malpractice Injuries: Selecting A Doctor

Stethescope and handcuffsMedical malpractice injuries are typically mistakes, and even the most experienced physicians, nurses and midwives can make mistakes.  Some health care providers, however, make more mistakes than others.  Some overestimate their experience, and some are overworked.

It is important for all patients to be comfortable with their healthcare team.  Choosing an obstetrician is particularly important for parents to be.  Here are some tips to help to identify whether your doctor is right for you.

Education, Training & Experience:  Find out what you can about potential doctors before your first appointment.

  • Website:  Go to the doctor’s website or the website of his/her practice.  Find out about how long the doctor has been practicing medicine, and how long he/she has been with the practice.  Find out all states where the doctor has been licensed to practice.
  • Curriculum Vitae:  Contact the doctor’s office and request a recent résumé or curriculum vitae.  Look to see if the doctor regularly authors medical journal articles or other publications.
  • Board Certifications:  ask the doctor what medical specialties he/she is board certified in.  When looking for an obstetrician, your doctor should be board certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology.  If you have a particularly complicated pregnancy, or if you are high risk, you may need a doctor who has a subspecialty certification in maternal and fetal medicine.  You can check here to make sure those board certifications are current.
  • Other Health Care Providers:  ask other health care providers, including your primary care doctor and your gynecologist if they have specific recommendations or if they know the reputation of any doctors you are considering.

Criminal Convictions:  Most states have an online database where people can search criminal convictions (sometimes this is combined with a database that allows you to search civil lawsuits filed by or against a person, as well).  Check all states where the doctor has been licensed to practice.

Disciplinary Actions:  Physician licensing is regulated by the individual states.  Most states will allow you to search online to see if there have been any instances of doctor discipline, like a suspension or license revocation.  Some of these states will also tell you if there have been any medical malpractice settlements or payouts (though some states only provide criteria for a certain number of years in the past).  In many states the entity responsible for this discipline has a name like “Board of Physicians” or “Health Licensing Administration.”

Medical Malpractice Lawsuits:  studies show that 5.9% of all doctors are responsible for 57.8% of all medical malpractice payouts (2007, The Great Medical Malpractice Hoax).  This means that some doctors are more prone to make mistakes than others.  Some states have online databases where people can search civil lawsuits.  Check all states where the doctor has been licensed to practice, and be sure to do a separate search for the doctor’s corporate or business entity’s name.  To check the federal courts (which are separate from the states), register a free account with PACER.

You can also contact medical malpractice lawyers, who have access to listserves, online databases like Westlaw and LexisNexis, and other resources to find out if there has been any negative action against particular doctors.

Remember that, just because physicians may have birth injury lawsuits against them, it does not mean that they were necessarily negligent.  More important than the fact of a lawsuit is the fact of a settlement or verdict.

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It is extremely important that you be comfortable with your physicians.  In fact, you may want to repeat these searches for other doctors that are part of the practice, particularly if other doctors may be on call for your child’s delivery.  If you have questions about researching your doctor, contact our medical malpractice attorneys at (855) 712-7818 or request more information online.

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