Checking the background of your doctor

When you first look at a doctor what are your preconceived notions? Does he look intelligent, harmless, and well put together? Does he look innocent? Do you find yourself thinking “he/she is a doctor, they want to help people not hurt them.” If so, you’re blindsided like many Americans in this nation including professionals and colleagues who often take healthcare providers at face value.

While many healthcare providers including doctors and mental health professionals are often working for the greater good of their clients or patients, there are some who are simply not cut out for the field. Many disregard ethics codes, expectations, and values that protect the public from danger and maltreatment. When ethics violations occur, patients or clients struggle with shock, distrust of other healthcare providers, fear, and most of all, where to turn next. Below you will find information on what to do if you or a loved one are ever violated by a healthcare professional.

Researching your healthcare provider:

It is important that all of us evaluate and re-evaluate our healthcare providers, primarily those who work with mental health. Those who work in mental health have great control over not only the services you receive,  but also your diagnosis (a label that can remain with you forever). In such cases, competence and stability (mental and emotional) are extremely important because everything that is done affects you and your future. For example, a 17yr old teenager who is diagnosed by a psychiatrist may carry that diagnosis into their early adulthood. Most mental health professionals also have access to the historical records of patients which means that a diagnosis can follow you for a long time. That being said, it becomes even more important to inspect your mental health professional and his or her level of expertise, experience, and professionalism.

The information you need:

It can seem very difficult to locate the history, training experiences, education, and even disciplinary actions associated with certain healthcare providers. If you are unfamiliar with how to go about doing this research, you are likely to give up and not understand your rights. When you go to a doctor or mental health professional for the first time, you are usually given what is known as “patient bill of rights,” which states your rights as a patient. Some examples include: you have a right to file a complaint in the event you are violated in some way, you have the right to request your healthcare records with exceptions, and you have the right to terminate your relationship with the profession or request another healthcare provider. The list of rights are extensive and very important to read and understand. One of your rights is to also receive a high quality of care. Part of receiving a high quality of care is to have the right to verify the license of the person caring for you. You have the right to contact your State Licensing Board for professionals and inquire about a license, any disciplinary actions taken against the individual, and to verify that the license is renewed or up-to-date.

In the state of Rhode Island, for example, there is a listing of doctors who have been disciplined under their professional boards. An example of a professional board is the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology or the Board of Psychology. It is protocol that most professional boards list doctors on their website who have been disciplined for multiple offenses. You can also locate information on the type of complaint that was filed against the healthcare provider, when it happened, why, and the type of punishment received.

Where to find the information you need:

It’s important to understand where to look for information regarding your healthcare provider. The most important place to start is your state board for professionals. Do you simple google search to locate your state board. You can also google information related to your local Department of Public Health or Public Welfare. If you decide to call a department, ask to be transferred to the department where you can inquire about disciplinary actions taken against professionals.

It is also important to have information about the individual you are inquiring about such as:

  1. License Number
  2. first,last name
  3. location of practice or state
  4. specialty or area of practice (psychiatry, counseling, psychotherapy, general doctor, orthopedic doctor, etc)
  5. Address of work-site

You can also find information on or other websites where you can find ratings and reviews from other patients. It is important that you also understand that these ratings can be altered to reflect positively on the healthcare provider from close patients, colleagues, family members, friends, or the healthcare provider him or herself. You have to take these sites with a grain of salt and compare it to other information you have received. Also be mindful that these sites may have 1 or more individuals with the same first and last name. Be sure that you have the right person. This is where an address and license number will come in handy.

How to file a complaint:

Most state boards have made it very easy for people to file complaints against healthcare providers. You can call, email, or send a letter by mail to file a complaint. You have to download or request by phone or mail a complaint form often known as a grievance. The best way to approach filing a complaint is to call or visit your state board’s website and locate a complaint form.

Understand the type of disciplinary action taken:

Most people do not understand disciplinary actions taken against doctors or other healthcare providers. It is your right to inquire about this with your state board and to ask for an explanation of what it all means. For example, some doctors are put on probation with restrictions, which means that they are being “supervised” or watched and must practice within the realms of certain standards or expectations. Some doctors who are on probation must practice under cameras or other professionals. Some are ordered to receive mental health treatment, sex or substance abuse treatment, serve jail time, pay fines, or surrender their professional title, certifications, or license.

As has been stated multiple times in this article, it is important that you understand your rights, what things actually mean, and how to go about filing complaints. You must also understand that when a complaint is filed, an investigation ensues and once allegations have been proven or the healthcare provider admits to the allegations of the complaint, a state board takes action. It is ultimately up to the state board which actions will be taken. Most boards carefully inspect whether the healthcare provider should be suspended, ordered to treatment, sent to jail, or receive some other punishment. In some cases, a pat on the hand is all the healthcare provider will receive and can move to another state to practice under different conditions or expectations.

In many cases, the state board of one state will share complaints filed and disciplinary actions taken with other state boards. It is, however, very easy for a state board to decide not to list this information or to neglect listing it at all. This is why it is important that you also check multiple state boards for information.

As always, stay informed!