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Do Georgians know all they should about their doctors?

An investigation by several media outlets, including USA TODAY, uncovered some troubling facts about if and how doctors are disciplined by state medical boards for errors that harm patients as well as improper behavior, including the overprescribing addictive drugs and sexual assault of patients. It also shows that how much people are able to learn about doctors depends on which state they live in.

Because there isn't one nationwide medical licensing board, doctors who are disciplined by their state medical board and even, in some cases, prohibited from practicing in their state can simply move to another state and resume their practice there with no black marks on their medical license in their new home.

In fact, the study found over 250 physicians who simply surrendered their license in the state where they've run into trouble rather than go through the expense and bad publicity of fighting the allegations. They then obtained a license in another state. By voluntarily surrendering their license, the doctor's alleged behavior remains secret.

The study cited Georgia and North Carolina as examples of the disparity in the way state licensing boards operate and how much information residents can get about the doctors who practice there. The study found that 26 doctors licensed in both states underwent disciplinary action in North Carolina but not in Georgia.

Our neighbors to the north also have a larger and better-funded medical board staff than we have. The North Carolina medical board's website is one of the most detailed in the country. Further, disciplinary action by another state's medical board is only reported on Georgia's medical board website when doctors notify the board themselves of that action.

An important lesson from this study for Georgia residents when researching a doctor may be to find out what states they're licensed to practice in and check those states' licensing board websites. Of course, if those states are lax about reporting disciplinary action or if a doctor has surrendered their license, you may not find the information you should have to make an informed decision about your health care.

One way patients throughout Georgia can help ensure that the doctors in our state are held accountable for their errors and negligence is to take legal action when appropriate. If you or a loved one has suffered harm at the hands of a doctor, find out what your options are.

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