I recently had occasion to look up the credentials for a physician who posts information on an on-line blog, and thought I’d share some of the things that you can look for when checking the credentials of a US-based physician.
First, is he/she an active licensed physician? If so, he/she’s probably listed at the AMA “DoctorFinder” website.
One huge drawback: You’ll need to know what state the doctor is in. And if the doctor doesn’t have a current active license, you probably won’t find them (for instance, industry-employed or academia-employed physicians or retired physicians probably won’t be in the AMA database). After entering the very irritating “CAPTCHA” stuff at the Usage Verification screen, you’ll see a choice of screens. Use the “for patients” box, then click on DoctorFinder, accept their terms, enter the info on the doctor (and optionally check the “sound-alike” search box) and you’ll find AMA member physicians meeting your criteria. If the doctor isn’t there, click on “View Non-Members” and more physicians will be listed. If/when you find the physician, click on their name for more details (such as phone number and Board Certification).
Next: Is his/her license in good standing? Every state has its own database about physicians, and it can be perplexing to find the information. A good place to start is the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB)
Click on “For the public” on the top left of their homepage, then click on “Search Your Physician Online” in the middle of the following page. You’ll now be at “DocInfo”
and can purchase information from the FSMB. Or, if you’re a cheapskate like me, click on “Board Directory”
to find a directory of state medical and osteopathic boards (Some states have separate boards for MD’s and for DO’s; others use one board to license both types of medical practitioners.) Again, you’ll have to know what state the physician is licensed in (and many physicians are licensed in more than one state – the information at the different state databases might vary a little, but in general should be about the same). The quality of the information varies according to state law and the information technology specialists running the website: for example, today the Missouri Board of Registration for the Healing Arts website is down (both at FSMB, and coming in from the State of Missouri’s website). And New Jersey misspells “infromation” at one place. Once you’re at the state’s website, look for keywords like “license” and “verification” and “credential” and if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to search for the physician. Drop-down lists of credentials may list physicians under “Physicians and Surgeons” (duh!) or “Medical” depending on the state’s idiosyncrasies. Once you finally get to the physician, you’ll usually find information about whether their license is current, the license number, when it was issued, when it expires, and if there’s been any “enforcement action” by the board.
Next: is he/she Board Certified? There are numerous Boards claiming to certify physicians, and some of them are well-established, and others are fly-by-night. The American Board of Medical Specialties
is the place to find the “legit” boards. And to find if your physician is certified by a legit board: on the left, near the top, click on “Is Your Doctor Certified?”
You’ll get a straight-forward screen to enter info about the doctor; but then on the next screen, you’ll have to register (what a pain!). After registering, you’ll find the physician’s certification status. The ABMS folks also have a listing of participating Boards
so if you know you’re only interested in one specialty, you can head to that specialty’s website, and search for Board-certified physicians in that area. For example, the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) website
lists other information for physicians, including the date they were first certified, and recertification information.
Does your physician join organizations? If he/she’s an endocrinologist, they’re probably a member of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and would be in the AACE database (the public version only works from address to name, not vice-versa, so you’ll have to have an address).
Both AACE and the American Diabetes Association (and probably lots of other professional organizations) have databases of their professional members which are available only to the members; if you know someone who’s a member, maybe you could impose on them to look up a specialist.
One place not to trust: the physician’s on-line CV, whether at Linked-In or elsewhere. It’s much too easy to fabricate data. For instance, there’s a university professor working for the University of Washington medical school who claims to have gotten his MD degree from Harvard Medical School in Boston; he didn’t – he went to another Boston-area medical school. Amazingly, no one at his department nor elsewhere at UW has caught and corrected the error.
BTW, if you choose to use me as an example to look up, I’m not in the AMA database (as I’m retired from practice and don’t hold an active license). I think I’m still in the Missouri database but as I mention, it’s not working today. And you can find my board certifications (American Board of Internal Medicine, Internal Medicine – General, and also Endocrinology and Metabolism) at the ABMS or ABIM websites.
One final thought: what do all those letters after a physician’s name and degree mean? Technically, they are called “post-nominal letters,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-nominal_letters and are awarded by professional organizations for meeting standards above-and-beyond routine membership. In the field of medicine, the F usually stands for Fellow (or M for Master); A for American or for Academy; C for College; E for Endocrinology; P for Physicians or Pathologists or Pediatrics; RC for Royal College (= British); S for Surgeons.
Here’s a few examples: