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Vetting the Doctor

How do I know I have a good Doctor?

We all hope that the doctor we see is a good doctor.  We hope they are the best doctor that ever lived, to be quite honest.  It is true that not all doctors and surgeons are created equal.  However, you can be assured both in Canada and the United States a doctors credentials are checked before they are allowed to practice.   They must be vetted on the Federal level, the Provincial or State level, and by the hospital at which the doctor works.

Often times we rely on word of mouth on who is a good doctor.  Recommendations from a friend, family or from your doctor. But how do we really know if this doctor has had complaints or issues in the past?  How do I check my surgeons rate of infections? 

To be honest with you, as an infectious disease doctor, I certainly do have preferences amongst other physicians and surgeons, on whom I would send my family members to be treated.  But I know this because I am in the hospital and I see how these doctors practice.  I see the mistakes and the triumphs.  But sometimes, we do not know who we are seeing.  We just have to trust that they are competent.

There are, however, some checks and balances to the system.
In the USA, the Centers of Medicaid and Medicare (CMS) along with the credentialing body of the hospital, The Joint Commission (JACO) or Det Norske Veritas, Inc (DNV), all have required collection of data from hospitals to make sure complications are kept within an acceptable standard.   Every hospital and doctor try to achieve a complication rate of zero, but as we are all human, it is a goal that is unrealistic over years of practice.

Specific rates of complications per doctor is not public knowledge.  This information is safe guarded because it must be taken with a grain of salt.  Having numbers available to you without the context of the case,  is dangerous.   Maybe you would see that your surgeon has a very high rate of infection.  But perhaps your surgeon takes on the hardest of cases.  Perhaps your surgeon does 200 of those particular surgeries in a year but another surgeon only does 10, so your surgeon would have a higher rate of complication just because they do more surgeries.  In both of the circumstances, you may choose not to go to that surgeon but realistically, they are likely the best surgeon to handle your case because they do so much surgery and they do the most complicated cases.  Some surgeons do not want to take on hard or difficult cases as it could increase their reportable rates of complication.

Nonetheless, you can check on the accreditation of a hospital by looking at their accreditation body website. Click the links below.

The Joint Commission 
The DNV 

Further, you can look up your doctor to see if any formal action was taken on a complaint.
In the USA, search your physician at the Federation of State Medical Boards.
Here is my search, to save you the trouble (spoiler alert, I'm clean)  Click this link 😊

In Canada

Search The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in each province.  On that site will be a link for Complaints and Investigations.  Look for the Directory of Disciplinary Decisions and search the doctor’s name.

Nova Scotia 
New Brunswick 
Prince Edward Island 
British Columbia
Northwest Territories 
- there is no site available to search directly on a physician's name
Canadian Patient's Safety Institute is available to help.  All provinces links are listed on this page.

Accreditation Canada has a downloadable list of organizations accredited by their counsel at 
Find a Canadian Accredited Service Provider - Accreditation Canada

You can look at the facility in question directly on the website listed or you can call directly to ask for their accreditation standards.


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