Dig deeper to verify a medical license

Dig deeper to verify a medical license

As this month’s cover story demonstrates, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to licensing for health care providers.

Licensing requirements and enforcement vary significantly from state to state, making it difficult for consumers to find consistent and comprehensive information.

In some states, licensing information is easy to access. In others, it's a jumbled array of data spread across many regulatory sites that the consumer must scour to glean any useful information.

At a minimum, you should always make sure your health care provider is licensed, if required, within the state he or she is practicing. However, licensing alone doesn't confirm the provider is a good one. You need to dig deeper.

That's where Angie's List comes in. You already come to our site to read reviews on health care providers and learn about their accessibility, bedside manner, effectiveness of treatment, billing process and office environment. But we want to offer you a more comprehensive resource.

To that end, last fall we began requiring that all health care providers on the List attest to their compliance with state licensing laws. This year we'll be going even further and performing random audits of the license numbers of health care providers to help ensure our information is accurate and up-to-date.

In addition, you'll soon have access to licensing details and past disciplinary actions for health care providers. We plan to offer a breakdown of state health care licensing requirements and a guide to resources where you can easily access all the information you need to make informed decisions.

Besides ensuring a level of education and training, there are other reasons why health care licensing is so important. For instance, an unlicensed doctor would be ineligible to carry malpractice insurance, thus posing a huge liability to any patients under his or her care.

One way to protect yourself is to avoid seeing providers who aren't affiliated with insurance companies, hospitals or health care organizations, which check licensure routinely.

"Those are red flags," says Lisa Robin, senior vice president of advocacy and member services for the Federation of State Medical Boards.

While 91 percent of Angie's List members who took our online poll believe health care licensing is crucial, only 20 percent say they check licensing prior to making an appointment, whether it be with a doctor, nurse practitioner or another type of provider.

Ellen Purpus of Malvern, Pa., is one member who is adamant about doing her own background check before visiting a doctor. She says in addition to making sure they're licensed by the state, she won't see anyone who isn't certified by a reputable board.

Several members also told us they believe a referral from another health care professional guarantees the provider is licensed. Don't assume that's the case.

And don't expect to become an expert on your doctor just by visiting a website. Set up an initial consultation to get more information after you've completed a background check.

Ultimately, as a prospective patient, you can never just take a provider's word that they're licensed. Protect yourself, be diligent and always research prospective health care providers before you're under their care.

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Tips to check a health care provider's medical license

Many state government and department of health websites offer license verification. Regulatory boards for specific fields also keep updated records.

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