What’s the first thing you do when you look for a new primary care physician or specialist? Do you search your health insurance’s provider network? Perhaps you ask one of your current doctors for a referral, ask friends and family whom they see, or Google doctors in your area. However you find your doctor, you probably do a little research. Your doctor may have impressive credentials – a good medical school, a prestigious residency, awards, publications, and the esteem of his or her peers…
…but none of that will tell you whether your new doctor has a history of malpractice.
Why You Should Care About Medical Malpractice
It’s sensible to research your new doctor’s background, but you should also specifically search for any history of medical malpractice. After all, you’d want to know if the person’s your about to hire to care for your most important possession – your own body – is able to do so with the care and attention it deserves. You’d want to know if they’ve been negligent or have harmed someone else, as well as why they did it and what happened afterward. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “an ounce of protection is worth a pound of cure.”
What Exactly is Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice, more formally known as medical negligence, is an:
- action or failure to appropriately act,
- by a physician
- during the course of treating a patient.
The action or inaction:
- is not a normal practice in the medical community (below the standard of care) and
- causes injury.
All five of these elements must be present in order for an incident to rise to the level of medical malpractice. For example, if someone impersonating a doctor injures someone, it’s not medical malpractice. Likewise, if a doctor is running up a staircase and accidentally bumps into someone who then falls down the stairs and breaks their leg, it’s not medical malpractice.
Medical Malpractice is More Prevalent Than You Think
In 2014, plaintiffs were paid an estimated $200 million for medical negligence claims in Florida alone, making the state #7 in medical malpractice compensation. Thus, it’s entirely possible your new doctor is one of the defendants who had compensated a patient. According to Forbes, 75% of doctors in low-risk specialties (like family practice and pediatrics) have been sued for medical malpractice. For those in high-risk specialties (like obstetrics and gynecology and emergency medicine), the number skyrockets to 99%.
What does that mean for you? Many doctors have faced at least one malpractice claim. However, the devil is in the details, and these you can find out from doing some more research on the claim.
How to Learn About Your Doctor’s Medical Malpractice Claims
Search the Florida Board of Medicine
All doctors practicing in Florida are required by law to be registered with the Florida Board of Medicine. You can look up any doctor and verify if they’re licensed, and if they’ve lost their license or if it’s suspended, you can find out why. You can file a complaint against a doctor here, too.
Add “malpractice lawsuit” or “malpractice complaint” after the doctor’s name to find out if they’ve ever been subject to a lawsuit or an investigation in another state, or were involved or named in a malpractice case against a hospital they were affiliated with.
Search all of the State Medical Boards
The Federation of State Medical Board’s docinfo database allow you to look up a doctor and find out if there’s been any disciplinary action taken against him or her in any state. If there has been disciplinary action, you can follow a link to that state’s licensing board website and look up the doctor.
Not every disciplinary action, however, is related to malpractice. Any professional misconduct, such as failing to file state income tax returns, will be listed.
Try the Florida Department of Health
The Florida Department of Health is another resource to research claims against a doctor. The Florida Health Department makes public any claims against a doctor with probable ten days after receiving the claim. This is also a good place to find out if the doctor you’re researching has been practicing in Florida without a valid license.
Do a Court Records Search
Medical malpractice claims are filed in the state courts in which the doctor has practiced, and those are on record with county clerks of court. Most court clerks’ offices have an electronic database the public can use. You can visit your county clerk search for your doctor and see if he or she has ever been a defendant in a civil lawsuit or has been subject to criminal charges.
If you find something, open it and read the details, because doctors are people too and may be subject to lawsuits and criminal charges that are unrelated to their practice. You wouldn’t want to give up an appointment with the best specialist you can find because she once got a speeding ticket on I-95 fifteen years ago.
Also, the county clerk of court only has records for that particular county. You won’t find records for other counties or states.
You Found Something. Now What?
A word of caution: just because a doctor has been accused of malpractice doesn’t mean that he or she actually committed malpractice. It’s also possible that a doctor has committed malpractice, but you can’t learn the details because the case was settled and the details kept confidential, or the case went to trial but the file was sealed. It’s also possible that there are current cases pending against your doctor but the judge has issued a gag order.
It may be a lot easier for you to simply call your attorney and find out if your new doctor has any history of malpractice claims, and especially if there’s a pattern of claims against this doctor. Your attorney has the resources and the experience to find this information very quickly.
Too Late…Are You Already Possibly a Victim of Medical Malpractice?
Do you think you’re a victim of malpractice? If you feel that your doctor may have made mistakes or mismanaged your care, call Kaire & Heffernan, LLC. Our legal team provides free evaluations to discuss medical malpractice cases.
Medical malpractice can have lasting effects for not just you, but your loved ones. You may not be sure that what your doctor did or didn’t do amounts to malpractice. You don’t have to know; that’s our job. Our experienced medical malpractice lawyers are here to listen to you and help determine if what happened to you is malpractice. Call us at 877-662-5399 for a free consultation.
Mark Kaire has been practicing law in Miami for nearly 15 years. He is dedicated to helping the injured people of Miami receive compensation. Mr. Kaire has been blogging on Miami’s legal issues for 4 years.