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How To Evaluate A Healthcare Providers Credentials 

Buyer Beware - Your Life May Depend On This.

The reason that I am writing this is that in my practice, I have seen multiple unfortunate occasions in which a patient has come to me after being promised a cure by an alternative practitioner and they did not get the expected outcome.   Too many of these cases were people being taken advantage of in their will to live, for example, with a cancer diagnosis. In some cases this has cost a patient not only tens of thousands of dollars, but also their life.   This is not always due to a lack of knowledge on the practitioner's part, but also I feel due to a lack of scruples, lack of mercy, and just plain greed in too many cases. Many "alternative" practitioners are also very limited in their scope of practice and may relegate a patient to a less or ineffective treatment because they are not adequately licensed to order standard tests or treatments that could provide a better outcome. They may not tell a patient about a more effective treatment because of lack of training, and also a desire to inappropriately hold on to a patient who they can keep charging fees to.

It is not enough to base your faith on a health care providers personality. Some even well meaning persons who may call themselves doctors may have ideologies that are in conflict with well established scientific data and may without ill intention cause a patient to delay obtaining care for a problem for which a cure may have been probable if they had more accurate information.
It is difficult for people to decipher just how qualified their health care provider is. Even though the term "Doctor" is most often thought of as an allopathic (M.D.) physician, remember that the term can (and is) also used for people with Ph. D's of any field, as well as veterinarians, dentists, chiropractors, naturopaths, homeopaths, oriental medical doctors osteopathic physicians, divinity degrees, as well as mail order degrees and honorary degrees in which the holder did not actually attend school.

If you are considering seeking out health care, here are some guidelines:

1. Ask what credentials the doctor holds and how many years of training did the doctor attend full time. Also ask if they are licensed in their specialty and for the name of the licensing board.  

2. Call the licensing board which is usually located in your state capital, and ask if the doctor is licensed and if there have been any restrictions, or complaints about the license. If the license has been restricted this is a red flag. If the doctor is not licensed, I would not seek care from that person as they are practicing medicine without a license which is illegal and they are misrepresenting their credentials.

If a health care provider has no license, not only is it illegal to practice, but there is no governing body which they are under. This basically means they can do anything they want to you without reprimand or code of ethics or practice standards since there is no licensing board to file a complaint against or "watchdog" so to speak..

3. Ask if they are Board Certified. This will tell you that the doctor has completed a residency (area of specialization) and if recertified, is keeping up to date in their field. Doctors who do not complete a course of training successfully cannot be Board Certified. If a medical doctor is not Board Certified, s/he may have only attended one year of training after medical school, after which their contract was not renewed. Most often this is because they were the weakest resident in a "pyramid" type program, or the doctor may have been in to much a hurry to get out in practice and make money, because this interested them more rather than becoming the best that they could in their field. Another red flag is a medical doctor who had only a short period of training in a specialty (especially less than one year) after externship (first year of residency) as this would reflect that s/he was "let go" or left out of fear of being fired from the position due to lack of competence. Of note that after one year of training post medical school, medical doctors can be licensed in many states.

4. Ask for references. Particularly from your medical doctor. A good question to ask is if he would send his family to a particular doctor. Also, in the case of alternative practitioners who your medical doctor may not know, ask for patient references, particularly those with your exact same diagnosis. If the patient was happy with the care they will generally be happy to provide a positive reference. If they do not have a survivor with your identical diagnosis, then perhaps they do not have enough experience in this area, or they do not have competence in the area you need.   If they quote HIPAA privacy regulations as preventing them from giving you any references, ask the doctor if his staff can call the patient who could provide a reference and ask the patient to contact you, so that this would not violate any of the patient's privacy without their consent.

5. Ask if they carry malpractice insurance. This in itself should not deter you, however, only licensed practitioners can be insured by a liability carrier. You can also ask a malpractice carrier if there have been any claims in which the doctor was found to have been at fault. You could then discuss the matter with the doctor as a "settlement" doesn't always reflect any problem on the physician's part.

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