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The "research physician" feature at this for-profit site provides extremely thorough reports, including doctors' schooling and disciplinary-action history and ratings of local hospitals. Practically the only missing information on this site is which insurance plans a doctor accepts, something the site "expects to have in the future," says HealthGrades spokesman Scott Shapiro.
Cost: A basic Physician's Report is $17.95; malpractice data cost an additional $7.95; seeing how that doctor's fees stack up against national averages, another $3.95. A Physician Comparison Report, contrasting 12 or more doctors in terms of board certification, location, and years since graduation from medical school, is $9.95.
Strong points: Information is packaged with hefty doses of explanation and perspective ("fast facts" and "what this means to you" sections). There's a checklist of questions to ask your doctor and data to help determine whether a physician is qualified to handle your specific condition. Reports print out in an easy-to-follow format.
Limitations: Fees can add up.www.ratemds.com
Web users rate their doctors and see how others rate them (1 to 5) on punctuality, helpfulness, and knowledge. A place for comments lets you describe what you like (or don't) about a doctor and read what others say.
Strong points: Robust automatic checks stop profanity and spamming of a doctor by one individual. All posts are reviewed in 24 hours by a real person who deletes the libelous or personal. It's not just a forum for complaints, says site cofounder John Swapceinski. "More than 70 percent of the ratings are positive."
Limitations: Site is new, with fewer than 400,000 ratings. (The older www.ratemyprofessors.com site has more than 5 million.)www.docinfo.org
This site is operated by the Federation of State Medical Boards, which uses its national database as a source. Profiles include details about any disciplinary actions a doctor may have received as well as background on education and licenses.
Cost: $9.95 per profile
Strong points: Information is presented clearly and is national, so if an MD was censured in Kansas but now practices in Kentucky, it shows up in his or her profile.
Limitations: Reports don't include a doctor's current office address or phone number.www.ama-assn.org
The American Medical Association's (AMA) DoctorFinder tool tells you where the doctor attended medical school and did his or her residency, plus provides an office phone number and location (with a link to a map), as well as where he or she has hospital admitting privileges. Information includes board certification, if any, "a real quality indicator," according to Samantha Collier, MD, chief medical officer of the healthcare-ratings organization HealthGrades, in Golden, Colorado.
Strong points: Very easy to use. You can search for a physician by name, state, and specialty or even do a "sounds-like" search if you are unsure of the exact spelling of a name or city.
Limitations: Doesn't list how long ago doctors graduated from medical school or started in practice -- or if they have ever been disciplined. Another step is required for information on non-AMA members and you get less data.www.docboard.org
Its DocFinder links you to state licensing boards. All reveal when a doctor was licensed or the subject of any disciplinary action. Many states provide much more.
Strong points: Run by the nonprofit Administrators in Medicine. Sometimes has more data than almost any other site (including whole files documenting disciplinary actions).
Limitations: Information can vary from state to state. The Illinois board, for instance, gives a single line listing a doctor's license number, status, issue and expiration dates, and whether he or she has been disciplined. Michigan's board, on the other hand, also includes details of any open formal complaints. Can require a fair degree of computer skill.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, December 2007.