State medical boards generally provide their information free of charge, but you can also order a report on an individual doctor through Docinfo (www.docinfo.org), a service of the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB). For $9.95 per search, you can look up a physician's medical school and year of graduation, licensure history, board specialties, location, alternate names and disciplinary actions taken against him or her.
"Every disciplinary action reported by state medical boards to the FSMB is uploaded," says Lisa Robin, chief advocacy officer of the federation.
It's not easy for doctors to run away from disciplinary measures. "Under federal law, suspended licenses must be reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank," Carome says. These records aren't publicly available, but hospitals and state medical boards have access to them. If, say, a physician who had his license suspended in California moves to Ohio and applies for a license, the State Medical Board of Ohio is able to check that physician's record in the national data bank before making a decision, Carome says.
Although patients can't access the national database, they can look up information about physicians on sites such as Healthgrades.com, a for-profit venture that's free for patients. (The company makes its money from advertising bought by drugmakers, medical device manufacturers and hospitals and doctors who pay extra to highlight their products and services, says Evan Marks, Healthgrades' executive vice president for informatics and strategy.)
The site provides doctor reviews collected from patients as well as information from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and state medical boards, Marks says. Like other sources, Healthgrades collects information only about lawsuits that have been settled, so a doctor with pending lawsuits may still appear to have a spotless record.