Researching Plastic Surgeons in Your Area
Verifying the Board Certification of Your Surgeon
Does your plastic surgeon have board certification? The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) website can help you determine if your surgeon is certified by any of their 24 medical specialty boards. The three boards that most often certify surgeons who practice cosmetic or plastic surgery are the American Board of Plastic Surgery, the American Board of Otolaryngology, and the American Board of Surgery.
For more information, go to the ABMS online certification verification database to check on the board certification of a surgeon. Registration is free. You can also verify a surgeon's board certification for free by calling 1-866-ASK-ABMS (or 1-866-275-2267).
Professional Liability Insurance
You can just ask the surgeon whether he or she carries professional liability insurance, but you may detect a note of uneasiness in the room regardless of the answer. It's an awkward question, but it still has to be asked. It's as if you were to invite someone to your house for dinner and, before they stepped into your house, they asked if you had insurance. You'd wonder if they had the intention of suing you if they didn't like the meal. But it is your right to know what kind of insurance your doctor carries.
Some plastic surgeons may choose to have a surety bond instead of insurance, if they have the resources to do so. The premiums for plastic surgery malpractice insurance are so very high that is often easier and less expensive in the long run to carry a bond. A surety bond means the surgeon either has the funds or liquid assets, or maintains an irrevocable letter of credit, set aside that is equal to the maximum award amount for that. However, several states require liability insurance.
Factors that may determine whether or not your surgeon chooses to have insurance may be region of the country, state requirements, the medical specialty, assets, or requirements of group practices or premises. So do not be alarmed if your surgeon does not carry liability insurance as his medical license will more than likely require that he have comparable coverage in asset form. Also, doctors who choose not to carry traditional liability insurance are usually required to post such information in plain view in their office, or on documents made readily available to their patients.
Researching a Surgeon's Malpractice History
If you do find that your plastic surgeon has been involved in a recent lawsuit, ask for details on the case. Understand that anyone can file a lawsuit against a surgeon at any time, whether they have a good reason or not. A malpractice lawsuit may be filed simply because the results were not what the patient expected or because something unforeseen arose, such as undiagnosed medical conditions or anesthesia complications. Most successful malpractice suits must prove that the surgeon was negligent; however, some cases are won where negligence is not proven. Negligence occurs when the attending surgeon(s) have administered care that was substandard in that particular medical community or specialty. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly difficult to determine when surgeons are victims of frivolous lawsuits or when patients were the victims. Most plastic surgeons will not divulge whether or not they have been involved in a lawsuit; however, you reserve the right to ask.
So how do you go about researching malpractice cases? You can go to the courthouse in the county in which your surgeon practices and perform a search for litigations, arbitrations, trials, etc. in the civil index. You can ask the county clerk's office for specific instructions on how to do this. Some courts ask that you pay a fee for copies of the documents. Some malpractice information may be located in the Superior Court Office rather than in the county courts.
You may also get information about a specific doctor at sites such as ucomparehealthcare.com and HealthGrades. Both sites charge a fee but provide information about a physician's background and any disciplinary actions against him or her.
KnowX.com, a site that specializes in background checks and businesses, may also have information for a fee.
You can also find information by just typing your plastic surgeon's name into Google or another search engine. You might be inundated with information, some useful and some not so useful, but it is a good place to check.
Verifying A Surgery Center's Accreditation
If your surgery is to be performed at an office or ambulatory surgery center make sure the center is accredited! Accreditation will help you ensure that the center is well equipped, has equipment to properly sterilize instruments, has an emergency protocol and proper emergency equipment such as a crash cart, and is easily accessible to emergency vehicles.
You can check on the accreditation of a surgery center with:
Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care (AAAHC)
American Association for Accreditation for Ambulatory Surgery Facilities (AAAASF)
Canadian Association for Accreditation of Ambulatory Surgery Facilities (CAAASF)
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Bitar Cosmetic Surgery Institute
3023 Hamaker Court
Fairfax, VA 22031
Bitar Cosmetic Surgery Institute
8650 Sudley Road
Manassas, VA 20110
George Washington University Hospital
2150 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington DC, DC 20037