I was going to give this post a title about getting what you pay for in medicine as in many other walks of life.  Then I thought better of it.  The pricing of medical care is so crazy and opaque, you often end up paying more for poorer care.  Better to focus on quality of care than cost.

First, a warning about recommendations.  It never ceases to amaze me how some of the worst doctors I encounter get good reviews on line or have patients or even other doctors who recommend them.  Just because your neighbor or bridge partner received successful treatment from a particular doctor does not mean that doctor is well-qualified.  Just because a surgeon plays golf at the club with your treating physician doesn’t mean he is a good doctor.  As the old saying goes, “Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every once in a while.”

So how do you find out if the doctor you are planning on seeing or planning on having operate on you is well-qualified.  The first place to start is your state’s medical board.  Where did your doctor go to school?  Did your doctor complete a residency in which he or she received additional training in a medical specialty?  Does your doctor have training in the medical specialty for which he or she will be treating you?  Has your doctor been disciplined?  All of this information should be available on your state medical board’s web site.  Here is a link to the Arizona Medical Board’s web site.

Assuming you are satisfied by what you find out from the medical board, your next step should be the American Board of Medical Specialties.  Here is a link.  The ABMS administers the board certification programs for the various medical specialties.  There are 24 medical boards that have been approved for membership in the ABMS.

When a doctor in one of those specialties wishes to become board certified, he or she must submit an application.  The application must demonstrate that the applicant has successfully completed whatever educational requirements the particular member board has established.  Each board has its own requirements which relate to what its doctors do.  At a minimum, the application is going to require successful completion of studies at an accredited medical school, completion of a residency and letters of recommendation.  The applicant must have been in practice for the requisite number of years and have completed a requisite number of operative procedures or show some other comparable experience.  There will be both a written and an oral test.

Certification is not a one time thing.  The board certified doctor must apply for recertification every so often.  He or she will have to demonstrate that they have kept up with developments.

It is not easy to become board certified and board certification is no guarantee of a good outcome or that the board certified physician won’t make a mistake.  Doctors are human beings and human beings make mistakes.  What board certification does is help you identify a doctor who is at least highly qualified to treat you.  Highly qualified doctors are less likely to make a mistake than those who are less well-qualified.

After getting this far, you should still talk with the doctor about his or her experience doing whatever it is you want done.  Some very highly qualified doctors have a terrible bedside manner.  Communication with your doctor will be important, so you should consider getting a doctor with whom you feel comfortable and who is willing to talk to you and can do so in an understandable manner.

There is lots of malpractice and poor care out there.  Your best protection is to do your homework before getting treated.