Get to know your physician before you meet him/her

by Charles G. Warner

Getting Information about a Physician

doctor and patientAt some point, everyone needs to see a doctor for one reason or another. If you believe you are having memory issues or family members are concerned about your memory, you should make an appointment with a physician for an evaluation. It may or may not be a serious problem, but the only way to know for certain is to consult a reputable medical doctor. With memory problems you are often evaluated by a neurologist, a medical doctor specializing in the field of neurology. Neurologists specialize in diseases of the brain including, of course, Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. They do not perform surgery.

The next question often is “which doctor should I see?” You can ask your regular doctor for a referral to a neurologist that accepts your insurance. If that is not an option or you want to do some checking on your own, below you will find some resources that may assist you in finding (or ruling out) a physician that is knowledgeable about your medical concerns.

There are a number of websites that will enable you to gather information about prospective physician(s). For example, by checking these sites you may find out whether or not the doctor you intend to see has ever been disciplined by the State Medical Board, was ever sued for medical malpractice or has ever lost his/her hospital privileges (meaning lost the right to work in a particular hospital due to the his/her substandard care). Much, but not all, of this information is “on line” so you can review it in the privacy of your home or office. If you find information that is disturbing you can choose another doctor.

The following site contains information about discipline of medical doctors by the California Board of Medical Quality Assurance:

  1. The California Board of Medical Quality Assurance. Their IP address is: www.mbc.ca.gov/lookup.html.
    The California Medical Board is a California state agency that monitors physicians’ conduct. They act with various disciplinary measures against a physician(s) that the Board believes acted in a manner inconsistent with physicians who adhere to the “standard of care” (meaning following the rules of good medical practice). The Medical Board site is a good resource to get information on a new doctor you are considering visiting. If there is no information about your intended doctor, that is probably a good sign. There is also information about a doctor’s education on this site.
  2. Hospital Privileges:
    Doctors who have established themselves in a community usually apply for and receive hospital privileges. “Hospital privileges” simply means that after an application to practice at a certain hospital the Board of that hospital concluded that the physician applying was worthy of accepting to the hospital staff. If you want to go to a particular hospital in your community ask your intended doctor if he/she has “staff privileges” at that hospital. On occasion, a hospital board, after reviewing a doctor’s qualifications, will deny staff privileges to that doctor. If that has occurred, it could well be something to consider in choosing a doctor to care for your health needs.
  3. Medical Malpractice Lawsuits:
    If doctors treat a patient incorrectly and the patient is harmed by the incorrect treatment, the patient does have the right to sue the doctor for “medical malpractice.” These are difficult lawsuits and should not be pursued unless there is solid evidence to do so. Not always, but occasionally, information about malpractice claims appear on the Board of Medical Quality Assurance’s (commonly referred to as “BMQUA”) website.
  4. There are number of other websites that provide information about physicians and medical care. They are:
    American Board of Medical Specialties: www.abms.org
    Health Grades: www.healthgrades.com
    U Compare Health Care: www.ucomparehealthcare.com
    Vitals: www.vitals.com/doctor/find
    Yahoo Health: http://health.yahoo.net/doctors

Your physician will, in all probability, never know that you checked him/her out on line. It makes sense to do a little checking before you actually visit your potential doctor. Finally, many areas have medical offices with a team of staff members, specializing in memory and dementia related issues. You can contact the Alzheimer’s Association at 800.272.3900 or alz.org to find those offices that are nearest to you.

It is important to find the most knowledgeable physician possible. It is even better if you can find a knowledgeable physician that you are completely comfortable seeing as a patient.