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Finding the Right Doctor

A new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine underscores what patients have known for a long time: good research to find the right doctor does not necessarily yield the right doctor.

The study found only a thin correlation between how the doctor performed according to the patient and the objective facts – education, board certification, malpractice claims, disciplinary actions, etc. – that are commonly used to evaluate doctors on-line.

The study did find one thing that I have a hard time believing is true: there is no meaningful correlation between doctors who paid on malpractice claims and those who have not. There is no doubt that good doctors (and good lawyers, by the way) commit malpractice. But studies have also shown that a small number of doctors make up a large percentage of the malpractice payouts and that many of those doctors are “frequent flyers” who have been sued in the past. Moreover, there are other studies suggesting some doctors get sued more than others because they communicate so poorly. Patients usually don’t report that the doctor who communicates poorly did a great job treating them. So it’s hard to imagine how this data could be accurate. But it sounds like a quality study in a good medical journal so it will be interesting to see if there are follow-up studies that look at this issue more closely.