The default for most patients is to trust their doctors. After all, medical professionals, especially those with specialized knowledge, have gone through extensive education and hands-on training to obtain their licenses.
A healthy sense of trust is important for an effective doctor-patient relationship. However, trust should only come after having a complete picture. A degree or certification on a wall is not proof enough that someone is practicing responsibly.
Your doctor may have years of experience and a charming bedside manner, but what do you know about his or her past? Unless the case is high profile, you most likely will not be aware when your doctor faces disciplinary action, and there is no legal requirement to disclose this information to you. You have to look it up yourself through the state's license database.
Even then, records are limited. Possible information you may find is whether the provider's license is active, what forms of discipline took place and how long probation will last, if applicable. It may or may not include what the discipline was for. It could be criminal activity, medical negligence or a small infraction.
Challenges for patients
It should not be your burden to have to dig up your doctor's past, nor is it easy to do. Doctors may lose licensure in one state and then move to another to start over, where their records may come up clean. Doctors may also have permission to continue practicing while under investigation or on probation.
Of course, the type of wrongdoing matters. Doctors may have committed minor errors and gone through proper correction. Others may continue down the same wrong path or jump from violation to violation.
The more information you can find, the better the choice you can make about who cares for you, and the less likely you will experience medical malpractice.