Knowing if Your Doctor’s Dangerous

Consumer Reports Warns of the Difficulty of Finding Out About Impaired, Incompetent, Dangerous Doctors:


Finding a good doctor is a crucial part of managing your health care. But a much talked about article in the May issue of Consumer Reports magazine points out how ridiculously hard it is to get information on dangerous doctors.

They tell of a California obstetrician cited by the state medical board for 40 instances of negligence and incompetence with errors of medical knowledge, judgment, protocol and attentiveness.

A young pregnant mother was looking for someone to take care of her and her baby, and signed up as a patient with this doctor - after having researched his record. But she, or her family, found out what limited access regular members of the public have to disciplinary information. And the usual places don’t have that information - Healthgrades, only reported that this obstetrician had only been dinged for “failure to keep adequate records.” And Yelp, had “glowing reports” notes the article.

A week after delivery she died of a ruptured appendix that this doctor had failed “to adequately evaluate” having been wedded to his alternative, wrong diagnosis, which reputedly didn’t fit the clinical picture.


Usual Strategies Not Adequate


The usual advice when looking for a new doctor is check the National Practitioner Data Bank, which is an agency of the DHSS. But this provides only limited information to the general public.

The sites such as Healthgrades, Yelp, Angie’s List, just pass on subjective reports from patients – who may have had an exceptionally good or bad experience.

The state boards are the agencies that really know about doctors – but their information is impossibly difficult to access, complains Consumer Reports. You would think that any doctor that was a danger would have their license revoked. But often they are only put on probation.

Like the surgeon of the fiancé of one of the members of the Consumer Reports ‘Safe Patient Project’. He was only 36 but died following bariatric and gall bladder surgery. It was too late when it was discovered the surgeon had a history of a series of arrests, including for crack cocaine possession – and the California board had a substance abuse program that enabled doctors to keep their abuse problems secret.

The important work of state boards is often only done by volunteers and there is also a high bar for getting them to act on a complaint, notes the report. (the California board received 8,267 complaints in 2014/15 but only opened cases on 1,381 of them).


Important Stuff

This Consumer Reports article provides suggestions of how things could be improved – with various suggestions for improving access to information about bad doctors. And there has been a move to do this, though the American Medical Association has resisted.

This is a real patient empowerment issue. There’s a nice quote from patient safety advocate Robert Oshel that “you can find out more about the safety record of your toaster . . . . . than you can about your physician.”

I have a chapter about ‘Getting The Right Doctor’ in the book. But however well informed you are, you are still stuck with very limited access to information about doctors safety records.

For more information or involvement (and like so many other issues this is one where change is likely to only come about through advocacy and political action) go to





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