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Questions Asked by Patients

Question: Must a doctor have a special license to do surgery?
Answer: In Oregon, a medical license entitles the holder to practice in any area of medicine.

Q: What is the difference between an MD and a DO?
A: An MD is a medical doctor who graduated from a medical school. A DO is an osteopathic medical doctor who graduated from an osteopathic college. Both types of institutions prepare the student to become a physician, but the osteopathic college places more emphasis on the role the bones play in health. Students at an osteopathic college must learn the same things students at medical schools do, and must pass the same kinds of tests. Both types of physician may do any type of medical procedure, and both may practice any of the recognized specialties.

Q: May a physician's office secretary give shots?
A: Yes, as long as the secretary is under the physician's supervision. The physician is responsible for ensuring they are qualified and competent to perform any delegated services. The Oregon Medical Board provides licensees guidance through the Statement of Philosophy on the Use of Unlicensed Healthcare Personnel.

Q: How do I make a complaint about a Board licensee? Can you send me a complaint form?
A: The Board now has a complaint form you may use, or you may write us a letter telling us who the doctor or other licensee is, what happened, when it happened, and who the witnesses were (if any). You may also call the Board’s Complaint Resource Officer at (971) 673-2702; or toll-free at (877) 254-6263 from anywhere in Oregon outside the Portland area. Ask to talk to our Complaint Resource Officer and intake investigator. He will explain how our system works. See the How to File a Complaint section in this web site for more information about this process.

Q: Will my complaint be kept confidential--will the licensee know I complained?
A: Generally speaking, your name and your complaint will be kept strictly confidential. The licensee will not know who made the complaint against them. Under some circumstances however, this information could become available to the licensee. This is very rare and occurs in less than 1% of cases investigated. Please call our Complaint Resource Officer for an explanation of how the process works. See the Filing a Complaint section in this web site for more information.

Q: What is the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist?
A:  A psychiatrist has graduated from medical school, is a medical doctor, and can prescribe medications. A psychologist has a Ph.D. in psychology, but did not graduate from medical school and cannot prescribe medications. For more information see the Oregon Board of Psychology.

Q: What is the difference between an optometrist and an ophthalmologist?
A: An optometrist is trained in measuring vision and prescribing corrective lenses. An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who specializes in eye conditions. An ophthalmologist is able to measure vision, but also treats eye diseases and can perform eye surgery. For more information see the Oregon Board of Optometry.

Q: What does "board certified" mean--is it different from being licensed?
A: Yes, it is different. Every physician must hold a license to practice medicine. Medical boards in U.S. states and other jurisdictions (such as Puerto Rico, Guam, US Virgin Islands, and so forth) issue licenses. These boards have legal authority to issue licenses, investigate and discipline practitioners, and regulate the practice of medicine within their state or territory.

In addition to licensing, some physicians may be board certified in their specialty. These boards are different from the state boards that issue licenses. Practitioners of a certain medical specialty can establish a specialty board or professional association. The specialty board or association determines appropriate qualifications (such as examinations, competency demonstrations, or training) which show an acceptable minimum level of knowledge and awards a certificate or certification to those practitioners who meet the qualifications. Every recognized medical specialty and many subspecialties have established boards to examine the qualifications of physicians practicing that specialty. Typically, physicians who have completed a period of training ("residency") in a particular specialty and who pass an examination given by the board of that specialty are then qualified to become "board certified."

Traditionally, when a physician says s/he is 'board certified', s/he is claiming to be certified by a specialty board recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties or the American Osteopathic Association's Bureau of Osteopathic Specialists. There may be other boards issuing similar certifications; requirements may be similar or different.

Q: Can a physician practice a specialty in which s/he isn't board certified?
A: Yes. In Oregon, a physician may practice any specialty without being certified by any specialty board. However, Oregon law does require that the physician meet the "standard of care" in any field he or she chooses to practice. This means that the care rendered must be that which is reasonably expected of an appropriately trained physician in the setting involved. Board certification neither guarantees that that standard is met, nor does lack of board certification mean that the standard would not be met. It merely indicates that at one point in time, a physician undertook and successfully completed a formal course of training (the residency" described above) and passed an examination administered by the board of that specialty. Most specialty boards now require some sort of recertification examination of their certificate holders, but this is at the discretion of that particular board.

Q: Is a board certified physician better than a physician who isn't board certified?
A: Not necessarily. Board certification demonstrates that the physician has met the requirements of a particular board for that particular certification. This usually involves successful completion of a specific amount of training and passing an examination. Physicians who are not board certified may be as well qualified as those who are. Some specialty boards require the doctor to complete some amount of continuing medical education in order to remain board certified after her/his initial qualification.

Q: Can a medical doctor who isn't a psychiatrist give counseling?
A: Yes.

Q: Is it legal for my doctor or other health care provider to tell me s/he won't see me any more?
A: Yes. The doctor is free to end the doctor/patient relationship at any time, just as the patient is. There is no law that forces a physician to take on or continue to care for a specific patient. If a physician decides not to continue treating a patient, he/she may terminate the relationship without giving any explanation. The physician should give the patient written notice and agree to provide care for emergent/urgent issues, depending on circumstances, for no more than 30 days or until another provider has assumed care of the patient, whichever comes first. In some circumstances, such as when the patient is disruptive, hostile or dangerous, that time frame may be as little as one day. The physician should inform the patient that they will forward records to their new physician upon receipt of the patient’s consent to transfer records. This notification should be either sent with certified mail, return receipt requested in an envelope containing the physicians address and a note in the lower left corner stating "Address Service Requested."

Q: How do I learn about a doctor or other licensee's background?
A: You may call the Board's public information line at (971) 673-2700 any weekday between the hours of 8:00 a.m - 12:00 noon, and 1:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m. to inquire about up to 3 licensees per call. The person answering this line can give you the following information about each licensee: whether the person is licensed in Oregon, when the license was issued, the licensee's specialty (if any), the licensee's age, the business/mailing address and business telephone number, the licensee's standing with the Board, and whether there are any limits on the license.

To learn about a doctor's educational background, you must write a letter requesting a written verification. This verification will include all the information you would receive by phone, plus where the doctor went to graduate school, the dates of training, and the basis of licensure. When writing, include the doctor's full name, license number (if known), and your name and address. There is a $10 fee for this service. A Verification Request Form is available for your convenience.

All of the above information is also available free on-line (Online Licensee Information).

You may also call the doctor's office and ask where he went to school, and what internships and residencies he has completed.

For additional information about a licensee check out our Information About Licensees page.

Q: Can I find out if there are any complaints against my doctor or other Board licensee?
A: The Board does not give out information about complaints, since not all complaints are valid and a licensee's reputation could be harmed unfairly. However, the Board does investigate complaints to determine whether the Medical Practice Act (the law governing medical practice in Oregon) has been violated. If the Board has taken action against a licensee for a violation of the Medical Practice Act, this information is available to the public (Online Licensee Information).

Q: How do I find out if my doctor has been sued?
A: The Board offers a free searchable malpractice database on its website, available here (click on the Malpractice Claims Search link). In this database you can search for information on closed malpractice claims on any Board licensee by either name or license number. The Board also offers a more detailed, printed report for a $10.00 fee per licensee. A Service Request Form is available for your convenience, should you wish to order a printed malpractice report on a particular Licensee. Neither the database nor the printed report will show any suits that are still pending. Please note that the malpractice information maintained by the Board represents information provided to the Board by insurers to date. Not all insurers have submitted claims information to the Board.

Q: Can a doctor who has been sued still practice? Does it necessarily mean that they are a bad doctor?
A: Malpractice suits alone do not constitute cause for loss of licensure, although the Board does review malpractice suits to see if a pattern of questionable practice may be developing.

The fact that a doctor has been sued does not mean that s/he is a bad doctor. The following factors should be kept in mind:

  • Some specialties--such as plastic surgery--are more prone to suits than others because of unrealistic expectations on the part of certain patients.
  • In this country, anybody can sue anybody, and not all suits are valid.
  • Many patients do not understand that medicine is not an exact science. The same set of symptoms and findings can sometimes point to several different conditions. Tests can be inconclusive. Sometimes the best a doctor can do is to take all factors into consideration, and make the best decision they can.
  • Even the best doctor is human and the occasional, unfortunate mistake may occur.