Updated: Jul 13, 2020
I’m a podcast listener. I like the ones that teach me stuff, but I especially like the non-fiction ones about some crazy, real-life story that make me want to binge episode after episode. The Dream, about multi-level marketing, was awesome for that (I mean, it cited a study that found a whopping 99% of those who get involved in MLMs loose money). So was The Dropout, about Theranos and its founder Elizabeth Holmes, who promised the world–and CVS–she could build a whole laboratory in a box without having the technology to do so (details, details). Most recently, though, it was the podcast Dr. Death.
Have you heard of Dr. Death? The nickname applies to Dr. Christopher Duntsch, a neurosurgeon in Dallas. The podcast does an excellent job of rolling out his absurd story—the story of a neurosurgeon who either lacked even basic competency, or had a deep desire to do serious harm. Or maybe both? It describes how he “effectively decapitated” a patient by drilling away so much of the bones in their neck during surgery, how he operated while drunk and high, how one patient left the surgical theater with their vocal cords cut, and how he made his good friend—whom he was operating on to correct an old football injury—a quadriplegic.
Just as scary is how long it took for the doctor—who wrote in an email to his girlfriend that he was ready to “become a cold-blooded killer,”—to be stopped. He was suspended or allowed to resign from several institutions, bouncing around for years, doing serious damage to multiple patients, before the Texas Medical Board finally suspended his license.
Before you start having an anxiety attack about health care providers being unqualified or dangerous, though, I should also note that the podcast’s reporter, Laura Beil, also says “the vast majority of doctors are good, fine, caring people who want what’s best for their patients.”
She also notes that a little bit of skepticism, though, is probably healthy when looking for health care providers. And lucky for you! I just started a job at a company that verifies the credentials of health care providers! This probably isn’t a long-term stop for me, but I currently spend forty hours a week looking up licensing, disciplinary information, and news stories on health care providers, from CNAs, to pharmacists, to acupuncturists, to psychiatrists, to licensed clinical social workers.
In this article, I’ve assembled a number of the many open-access resources my employer uses to background-check health care practitioners from across the United States. So whether you see a therapist, physician, or other providers, here’s where you can look right now to make sure they’re legit.
1. The state medical board, or state board for the provider’s profession
Check to see that the provider has a current license and no disciplinary action against them
In the US, health care professionals are licensed at the state level. Providers have to show they have the proper education and have met other requirements, such as passing licensing exams–requirements that vary somewhat from state to state. This is a good place to start if you’re looking into a provider. The information you’ll get will vary, but generally includes things like the person’s name, their license number, when they became certified, if their license is currently active, and if there is any disciplinary action against them (to be clear: disciplinary action would be a red flag). Tip: If you know the provider comes from another state, it might be worth checking that state’s info, too.
Where precisely this information is located also varies somewhat from state to state. In general, your state will have a medical board, which usually licenses physicians and a handful of other kinds of providers. Besides that, in many states, many different health professions have their own, independent state board—there can be a board of marriage and family therapists, of nursing, of pharmacy, of naturopaths, of occupational therapists, etc. The exact location will vary somewhat depending on the state–in Utah (where I live), all this licensing goes through DOPL, the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing. Wherever the exact location, however, the information should be very findable with a quick web search.
How to find it
Search: the name of your state + the name of the profession of the person you’re looking up + “board” + “license”
Once you’ve found the main page, look for something about “license verification,” “license lookup,” or similar. At this point, you should be able to use your provider’s name to look up their info (when present).
Example: Dr. Christopher Duntsch
To illustrate how this works, I’ll use Dr. Christopher Duntsch as my example. To find Dr. Death’s–I mean Dr. Duntsch’s–licensing information, I googled “Texas medical board license,” which took me to the link “License Lookup.” I used their search tool to type in his name, and selected “physician.” You can see in the screenshot below that his license expired on 11/30/2013–that it was revoked. The link also happens to include summaries of each investigative and disciplinary action taken against him (which won’t necessarily be the case for all states and all boards).
Since his licensing info states that he went to school in Tennessee, I did a similar search to find that state’s medical board and their license verification. You can see here the results are a bit different because it’s a different state. Again, though, you can see that he does not have a license, and that there have been “adverse licensure actions” against him–bad news.
2. Board Meeting Minutes
See if the provider has come up in board meetings–if they have, it’s usually bad
If you’re following along, you’ve already found the board or similar organization that governs health care providers like the one you’re looking up in your state. Now that you’ve found them, you can look closer at your provider.
The boards that regulate and monitor different health care professions in different states hold regular board meetings (often once a quarter), the minutes for which they make available to the public. During the meetings, one major topic will be the rules for the profession in the state, all written out in technical legalese. This stuff isn’t super useful when checking into a health professional–-just skip over it.
During these meetings, boards also often (though not always) discuss disciplinary actions against members of their profession—and this is useful. They might not go into much detail about why an individual is being disciplined, but they often give some broad information about what happened: “unprofessional behavior” is one I’ve seen a lot. This is usually followed by what the person needs to do to keep their license. This includes things like paying fines, completing continuing education hours on a certain topic, probation or other close supervision, and, in much more extreme cases, having their license suspended or revoked.