I've been asked to do three kinds of background research doctors -- (1) get basic information (2) get a doctor's disciplinary record or (3) compile a complete report.
Basic Information: The AMA's Doctor Finder provides contact information and basic biographical information for all U.S. doctors. More patient feedback is available from Angie's List (subscription only).
Specialist certification may be indicated in Doctor Finder, but you can check the source by looking in the Official ABMS Directory of Board Certified Medical Specialists (available in print, on Lexis (GENMED;ABMS) or online to subscribers at www.BoardCertifiedDocs.com. You can also verify whether a doctor has ABMS specialty certification on the ABMS Web site.
For "top" doctors, check America's Top Doctor's, published by Castle Connolly Medical Ltd. Or use the online search on the Castle Connolly Web site (www.castleconnolly.com). You can also use these sources to find expert witnesses.
For Cancer (Oncology) specialists, search the National Cancer Institute's Physician Data Query Database on Lexis (GENMED;DIRECT).
Disciplinary Record: For free, check (a) Doctor Disciplinary Information on State Web Sites or the AIM DocFinder to see if the relevant state has posted disciplinary records, and (b) the list of doctors and hospitals excluded from participating in Medicare, Medicaid and other Federal health programs. For New York doctors, check the New York State Physician Profiles, which includes legal actions taken against doctors. Public Citizen also posts an excellent Report on Doctor Disciplinary Information on State Web Sites, which tells you what you can expect from the State sites.
For states not covered by the Web sites, you can contact the relevant State Medical Board for information. Links to Medical Board Web sites are posted on the AMA Website and on www.fsmb.org.
For a fee, you can purchase disciplinary records from Docinfo.org or ChoiceTrust.
Finally, if you can get access, it's great to check the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services maintains the "National Practitioner Data Bank" (NPDB) and the "Healthcare Integrity and Protection Data Bank" (HIPDB). The NPDB is "a central repository of the information on physicians, dentists, and in some cases, other health care practitioners. It contains reports on medical malpractice payments, adverse licensure actions, adverse clinical privilege actions, and adverse professional society membership actions." The HIPDB is "a national health care fraud and abuse data collection program for reporting and disclosing certain final adverse actions taken against health care providers, suppliers, or practitioners."
Information about the NPDB and HIPDB Data Banks is posted at www.npdb-hipdb.com/, however the NPDB maintained only for the use of hospitals and other health care providers who want to make sure their doctors haven't gotten into trouble, and access to the HIPDB is generally limited to government agencies and insurers. So if you're doing work for a hospital, clinic, insurance company, etc., you may be able to get information on their behalf. Otherwise, rely on the other information sources discussed above.
Comprehensive Research: The first step in compiling material on a doctor is to get the basic biographical, licensing and sanction information. To do that, use the sources discussed above.
Next, search Lexis and/or Westlaw or a competitor for judicial opinions (using the broadest relevant database), verdicts (see "Verdicts and Settlements") and news (again, use the broadest relevant database).
Search the relevant Federal and state docket/case information databases to find additional litigation (see Docket Sheets and the entries for individual states).
Search at least two good search engines to find miscellaneous online postings. Also check for information on the Web site of any hospital or practice with which the doctor is affiliated.
Look up physician data on Data.CMS.gov. It's clunky to navigate and the data display is poor, but you can see what kind of medicade-covered procedures a doctor performed and how much the doctor billed for them.
You might want to search for publications. The sources for finding books and articles written by doctors is discussed in the separate entry for "Medical Materials."
You might want to search expert witness databases to see if your doctor has been covered. See "Expert Witnesses."
Finally, you might want to search Propublica's Dollars for Docs to see if the doctor has received payments from a pharmaceutical company.