Five FREE resources for background-checking your health care provider

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.

To see if a provider has been discussed in their regulatory board’s meetings, you want to find the meeting minutes for the board, then search for their name. If you can’t search all the minutes at once (which might happen depending on the format of the files), try opening up minutes for the previous few months or years and searching for the provider. Tip: You can skip links and files that just say “agenda”—that just has what the board is planning on talking about during the meeting, not what they actually discuss.

How to find it:

Try searching the profession + “board” + the name of the state + “meeting minutes” + the name of the person you’re looking up.

If this doesn’t show anything, you might also want to just find where online the board posts their meeting minutes (try the above search, just without a name). If minutes are posted as separate individual files (like PDFs), they might not have been searched when you googled the provider’s name. It might be worth pulling up recent minutes and doing a quick cntrl + F search for the provider’s last name.

Example: Dr. Christopher Duntsch

I found the online archive of the Texas Medical Board’s meeting minutes by searching texas medical board “meeting minutes,” where I could look at the contents by date. I looked at 2013, which was when his licensing info mentioned he got in trouble. More efficient, though, was using the search tool on the Board’s website and typing in his name. Here, you can see a screenshot of the medical board’s meeting minutes from December, 2013, when the board was considering “possible action” against him. Tip: The term “board orders” refers to the official write-up a board puts together outlining disciplinary action against a specific provider.

3. Board Newsletters or Bulletins

In addition to their meeting minutes, many boards publish a newsletter or bulletin, which oftentimes include information about providers who have gotten in trouble. Similar to the other resources listed in this article, there may not be a newsletter for every single board in every state. Also, even when there is, they might not always be in the same format or include the same information. Still, it’s helpful to know that this is a possible resource, and that it can have some useful information–it’s one of the resources the company I work for checks regularly.

How to find it:

Look around on the website for the profession’s governing board for the state. You can also try the name of the board + the state + “newsletter” or “bulletin.” If you still can’t find anything, try finding a contact email or phone number for the board, and ask them if they publish a newsletter, and if you can have a copy.

Example: Dr. Christopher Duntsch

It was interesting to find an announcement in the January, 2011 medical board bulletin announcing Christopher Duntsch was newly licensed in the state…

…followed by a later bulletin with disciplinary action against him (this would have been while they were conducting an investigation on allegations against him)…

…and finally revoking his license.

4. State Abuse/Offender Registries

In many states, public registries with the names and information for child abusers, sexual offenders, and others are available to search. You can use these tools to see if your provider comes up on any of the lists.

Just like other available resources, where exactly this information is and how much is available depends on the state. While writing this article, I found Utah has an excellent, easily-searchable database online for this information, though it looks like in Texas you have to submit a paper form for it.

How to find it

Search the name of the state + “abuse registry” OR the name of the state + “offenders registry,” then use the resulting page’s tools to search for the name of the provider you’re looking up.

5. More places to look

Like I mentioned, I currently work for a company whose entire purpose is to identify information about healthcare professionals and pass it along to the companies they work for. In addition to the above resources, here is a list of other search terms and registries the company searches out to gain information on healthcare providers:

  1. State arrests

  2. Disciplinary lists

  3. Board orders

  4. Hearing notices

  5. Cease and desist orders

  6. Imposter lists

  7. Press releases

  8. Disciplinary flags

How to find it:

I’ve grouped these terms because they will likely need a little more searching. You can try searching the term along with the name of your state, which will likely lead you to registries or lists that you can then search for your provider. You also can try searching these terms along with the name of the profession of your provider, looking to see if the board that governs the profession has these resources.

Example: Dr. Christopher Duntsch

For a final example, here’s a press release from the Texas Medical Board about Dr. Duntsch:

In conclusion…

Probably the most amazing thing I’ve learned while working for a company that verifies healthcare providers’ licensing information is that the company relies on public information. There is so much information out there on providers when you know where to look! I hope this post helps you utilize it.

And what if you don’t find any information on a provider, but suspect or have witnessed their unprofessional conduct or abuse? REPORT IT. Part 1 of this post tells you how to find the group–most likely a board–responsible for licensing and monitoring a particular healthcare profession in your state. Whatever the organization is, they don’t just exist to sign licenses and write up bylaws. That organization is responsible for monitoring the profession, and for identifying and disciplining bad actors, like “Dr. Death” Christopher Duntsch. That doctor was only stopped when a colleague approached the medical board–an action that likely has saved the wellbeing and lives of untold individuals by preventing Dr. Duntsch from ever seeing patients again. I hope for all of us that we have the same kind of courage in similar situations.

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