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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Medical, legal info on Web

By Kim Komando

Looking for a good doctor or a lawyer? A number of Web sites can help.

For instance, let's say you switched health plans or moved. Perhaps you need a heart surgeon. Or, you might want to check out your current doctor. Whatever answers you're seeking, the Web is a great place to start.

Your first stop should be your health insurance company. Most have sites. Most likely the information will be cursory phone numbers, office hours and location.

There are two advantages here. Most insurance sites allow you to search by location, specialty and sometimes gender. Also, insurance sites will probably list only doctors who accept your health plan.

Next, try the American Medical Association's (www.ama-assn.org) DoctorFinder. It provides basic information about nearly 700,000 doctors in the United States.

Your state's medical board probably has more detailed information. Some states, such as California, Connecticut and New York, require physicians to disclose disciplinary action or outcomes of malpractice suits.

Each state has its own medical board. Some are independent, while others belong to a larger group, such as a department of health. However, all belong to the national Federation of State Medical Boards (www.fsmb.org).

The Federation of State Medical Boards runs a disciplinary history reporting service called DocInfo (www.docinfo.org). It claims to have recorded 156,000 disciplinary actions related to about 46,000 doctors dating back to the 1960s. It charges $10 per doctor's report.

But disciplinary reports are free from state medical boards. You can search individual Web sites, but that's a hassle. Try the Administrators in Medicine's (www.docboard.org) database. Enter the last name (and first name, to narrow the search) of a doctor. The site will search more than a dozen states' medical boards.

Not every state is included in the database. However, the site provides links to medical boards of states not listed.

HealthGrades (www.healthgrades.com) provides free hospital ratings. Select the state and type of procedure. It grades hospitals based on Medicare Provider Analysis and Review files and patient discharge data.

When viewing hospital and doctor information, weigh it carefully. The best doctors often get the most difficult cases. So criteria like mortality rates may not be the best indicator of an excellent doctor.

Finding a lawyer can be confusing and scary. FindLaw (www.findlaw.com) and Martindale-Hubbell (www.lawyers.com) provide extensive information on law firms and individual lawyers. You can search by area of expertise, location or by name.

The sites also provide more extensive information, such as educational background, practice areas and associations to which a lawyer belongs.

Once you find a lawyer who meets your needs, the American Bar Association suggests you check for disciplinary action before hiring. Disciplinary action could mean disbarment, suspending or limiting a lawyer's right to practice law. The ABA Web site links to each state agency for this information (www.abanet.org/cpr/regulation/scpd/disciplinary.html).

Contact Kim Komando at gnstech@gns.gannett.com