Frequently Asked Questions for Consumers
Disclaimer: Any and all statements herein should not be construed as official policy or positions of the Georgia Composite Medical Board (Georgia Medical Board). The information is merely provided on our web page by Board staff for general guidance to the citizens of Georgia and users of our web site. No individual staff member is authorized to provide a binding opinion or statement for the full Board. Nothing herein should be construed as legal advice or as a legal opinion for any particular situation. Refer to the Rules and Laws of the Georgia Composite Medical Board and consult an attorney of your choice for clarification.
What are my responsibilities as a health care consumer?
Without fail, first and foremost, be an educated consumer. You, as a health care consumer, may access information from the Medical Board that may be useful in your decision to choose a health care provider. The Medical Board web site can tell you whether or not a doctor is licensed, has had public board orders and provides additional information, such as certain malpractice settlements or judgments, reported by the physician on the physician's profile.
Also, citizens who believe the quality of care they receive is substandard or that a physician or other allied health care professional has engaged in unprofessional conduct should contact the Medical Board. If health care consumers do not report substandard care or unprofessional conduct to the Medical Board, then the health care practitioner may continue to practice in the State of Georgia unencumbered. You, the health care consumer, are the eyes and ears for the Medical Board and it is your responsibility to help us monitor the quality of care given to the citizens of our state by health care practitioners.
What are the duties and responsibilities of the Georgia Medical Board?
The duties of the Georgia Medical Board go beyond the licensing of physicians and other allied health care professionals. The Medical Board is charged with the responsibility of evaluating when a physician's or other allied health care provider's professional conduct or ability to practice medicine warrants modification, suspension or revocation of the license to practice their profession in the State of Georgia. Medical Board members devote much personal time and attention to overseeing the practice of physicians and other allied health care professionals by reviewing complaints from consumers, malpractice data, information from hospitals, other health care institutions and reports from other government agencies. When the Medical Board receives a complaint about a physician or other allied health care professional and there is reason to believe that the complaint warrants investigation, the board has the legal power to investigate complaints, hold hearings, impose disciplinary actions such as fines, mandate continuing education, order medical or psychiatric treatment, (including treatment for drug or alcohol addiction), or seek suspension, probation or revocation of a doctor's or other allied health professional's license or certificate.
Do medical records belong to the patient?
No, a patient does not "own" his or her personal medical records(s). The "records" are owned by and the property of the health care provider. However, Georgia law, (O.C.G.A. § 31-33-2(a)(2)), requires a physician to provide a current copy of the record to the patient under most circumstances. Also, O.C.G.A § 31-33-2(b) allows a patient or his/her designee to receive a copy of the requested record(s).
Can my doctor charge me for a copy of my medical records?
O.C.G.A. § 31-33-3 provides the fees that a physician may charge for copying and mailing patient records. The physician may even require the payment "up front", (before providing the records). HIPAA* may apply. *Please click to answer any questions regarding HIPAA. These charges are calculated by the Office of Planning and Budget. *Please click to visit their website for further information or to view the current permissible rates you may be charged as set forth in the medical records publication.
To view a copy of O.C.G.A. § 31-33-3, please click on the document link titled "Patient right to Medical Records," at the bottom of the page.
To view a copy of the Medical Records Publication, please click on the document link titled "20XX Medical Record Retrieval Rates," at the bottom of the page.
How do I obtain a copy of my medical records from my physician or a hospital?
You are entitled to a copy of your medical records under most circumstances after providing the physician with a signed release and paying the required fees as set by state law. If you still cannot obtain your records, you may file a complaint with the Medical Board. HIPAA regulations may also apply. Below is a sample note of what you should say in writing to request the record(s):
Month, Day, Year
Dear Dr. (Last Name):
Please send a copy of my medical record(s) to my new physician, Dr (First Name) (Last Name). Dr. (Last Name)'s address is: street address, city, state zip code. My initial visit with this physician to review my medical history is on: day, month, date, year. It would be greatly appreciated if you could have my record(s) there at least five (5) days in advance of this date to give Dr. (Last Name) an opportunity to review the file before hand.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding this request, I may be reached at (daytime telephone number) or Mr/s. (First and Last Name) is Dr. (Last Name)'s office manager and s/he may be reached at (office telephone number) if you need further explanation of the information being requested.
Be sure to date the letter. Give the physician at least three (3) weeks notice, if possible. After three business days of submitting the request in writing, follow up with a telephone call to make sure the physician's staff clearly understands what is being requested. Check with your new physician at least a week before your first appointment to make sure the record(s) have arrived. If, after making every reasonable attempt to obtain your records, and you are unsuccessful, you have the right to file a complaint with the Georgia Medical Board. However, remember, the complaint process is a lengthy investigative process and may not be the best route to follow if you need your records on an urgent basis. We will try to assist you in emergency situations.
My doctor is no longer in practice, (or my doctor is deceased). How do I obtain a copy of my medical records under these circumstances?
If you are attempting to obtain or locate your medical records from a doctor who is no longer in practice, here are some steps you should follow in attempting to recover a copy of your medical records:
1.) Call or visit the doctor's office to verify who has possession of the files from his/her practice;
2.) Check with the local Chamber of Commerce, county medical society or Police Department - they may be familiar with the doctor's practice and may be able to refer you to the office manager, a former employee or someone else who is knowledgeable about the doctor's situation;
3.) Check the Georgia Medical Board web site to verify a current mailing address or call (404) 656-3913 for assistance. The Medical Board will inform you of the doctor's last reported address;
4.) If the doctor was in practice with a partner, the partner may have information concerning the location of your records;
5.) Send a certified letter to the doctor asking for a copy of your medical records.
(Please read the FAQs in this section, as you may have to pay for a copy of your files upfront - before they are sent to you. A suggested draft letter is included in the FAQs). If the doctor has filed a change-of-address with the U.S. Postal Service, the letter will be forwarded to him/her. When you receive the green acknowledgement of delivery receipt, it will show you the date the letter was delivered, what location and who signed for it.
6.) If you know for sure the doctor is deceased, call the Clerk of Courts or the local Probate Court (in Atlanta, Fulton County, Georgia the telephone number is 404-730-4693) to find out who is the Executor of the estate. Court records will list a telephone number of the Executor. Call the Executor for assistance;
7.) Also, look in the Obituary Section of your local newspaper. The next-of-kin is often listed and their telephone numbers should be in your local telephone directory.
How do I obtain a copy of my hospital medical record?
Instead of addressing your letter (please refer to previous question) to an individual physician, you should call the hospital and find out who is in charge of the Medical Records Department for the hospital. By calling ahead of time, you will be able to inquire about the cost of providing this service. You may have to put your request in writing and then receive correspondence seeking payment for the copying charges in advance. When writing to a large institution such as a hospital, be sure to address your written request to the hospital and to the supervisor of the Medical Records Department. Inquire whether or not a "mail stop" code needs to be included in the address to ensure prompt delivery. In your letter, you should clearly indicate where and to whom you would like a copy of your hospital medical records sent. As with any request being made of a large institution, you should allow six to eight weeks for delivery.
Can my physician terminate my care or discontinue seeing me?
Yes, a physician generally has the right to terminate the doctor-patient relationship. In most cases, the physician may terminate a doctor-patient relationship upon giving the patient adequate written notice, preferably through certified mail. Physicians should give the patient adequate notice and a reasonable amount of time to find another health care provider. "Adequate notice" and "adequate written notice" are not legal terms and will depend on the circumstances. Generally speaking, 30 days is considered "adequate notice."
If so, what, if any, guidelines are there for such circumstances? Except in limited circumstances involving transfers between hospital and emergency situations, a physician may refuse to accept a new patient.
How do I find out if my doctor has ever been sued for malpractice?
Complaints and Investigations are considered confidential by state law, O.C.G.A. §§ 43-1-19(h)(2) and 43-34-37(d). Therefore, the Medical Board is prohibited by state statute from disclosing to the public investigative information or complaint information.
However pursuant to O.C.G.A 43-34A-3 (c) (17)(A)(B)(C) some information regarding certain malpractice judgments and/or settlements is available on the physician's profile.
How do I find out where a physician carries hospital privileges and other state licenses?
Pursuant to O.C.G.A 43-34A-3 certain information regarding a physician's background and history is available on the physician's profile.
How can I access public documents related to pending or closed GCMB disciplinary cases?
Public documents are most easily accessed via the Board’s web site. All public documents associated with a particular licensee are listed at the bottom of the licensee’s information page, which may be viewed using the “Look Up a Licensee” tool on this web site. Documents will be listed in the order posted and may be printed or downloaded from the Board’s site. Certain documents, such as hearing transcripts, may not be available via the web site but they are available to the public. Contact the GCMB for assistance in obtaining copies of transcripts.
My doctor was rude, what should I do?
There is no law that requires a doctor to be polite, considerate or courteous to his or her patients. So, generally speaking, there is nothing the Medical Board can do about a rude doctor. You should, however, talk to the doctor about being treated rudely by staff or the doctor. If your doctor does not address your concerns, seek medical care from another physician.
I am considering legal action against my physician; Will the Georgia Medical Board give me a legal opinion on my case?
No. The Georgia Composite Medical Board does not give legal advice to health care consumers or to health care providers. We will not weigh in on the merits, or lack thereof, of any case.
I need a doctor. Will the Georgia Medical Board refer me to a physician?
No. We cannot make physician referrals. However, you may call your local county or state medical society who may be able to refer you to a specialist. The telephone number is listed in the business white pages of the telephone directory. The Medical Association of Georgia (MAG) has a County Medical Society listing on their web page. Please click here to go to the MAG homepage. Or you may wish to contact your health insurance carrier to inquire whether or not they have a list of preferred physicians or physicians in your area who accept your particular health insurance plan. As a courtesy to the health care consuming public of Georgia, we do offer a guide on "How do I know if a doctor is right for me?" on our web page. Please click the title and it will take you to the guide.
Is a physician required to have a nurse or someone else present when performing a gynecological examination on a patient? Do I have the right to request a chaperone?
According to Board Rule 360-3-.02(12), it is unprofessional conduct for a physician to conduct such an examination of a patient of the opposite sex without a chaperone present.
A patient may ask for a chaperone if one is not present during a gynecological examination. If a chaperone is not present and the physician does not provide one as requested, a patient has the right to refuse to undergo the procedure.
My insurance company won't pay the bill, now the doctor is billing me! Can the Medical Board stop the doctor from billing me or sending my account to a collection agency?
Medical procedures are defined in your health care contract with your insurance carrier. Most insurance handbooks give a list of “excluded” procedures – procedures that, if provided, the patient must pay. You should read your benefits brochure or contact the insurance company's "Coverage Verification Office" prior to agreeing to have a procedure. Patients should not rely solely on the information provided by the physician's office, as ultimately, you are financially responsible for all authorized medical procedures. The ultimate responsibility is on the patient to know what procedures the insurance company will or will not cover. The Georgia Medical Board has no authority to intervene in insurance or billing disputes between a physician and a patient.
What can the Georgia Medical Board do if I think the doctor has charged me too much?
Patients have the right to inquire as to estimated charges for routine office visits, routine treatments and lab tests prior to receiving such treatment. O.C.G.A. § 43-34A-5 requires physicians or other authorized personnel to provide such information when asked.
At each doctor’s visit, patients should ask what charges the doctor anticipates the patient will incur for the visit and the services rendered, including tests and other medical procedures. While most physicians accept assignment from insurance companies, (payments made from the insurance company directly to the doctor on your behalf), physicians may charge whatever fee they deem appropriate for the service(s) provided. This is a business decision made by your doctor’s office and is a standard part of the physician’s practice.
Additionally, contact the physician’s office and request a detailed explanation of the charges, preferably in writing, so that you may review, verify or dispute the billing charges. Mistakes in billing can happen and there may be an error in your bill. You have the right to review your bill and dispute any charges. Most often, it simply takes one telephone call or a letter to clear up any disputed charges. The Georgia Medical Board’s only authority is to review quality of care issues or other professional conduct issues as they may relate to enforcement of the Medical Practice Act. We are prohibited from reviewing billing and/or insurance complaints.
What is the difference between a D.O and an M.D.? Does Georgia differentiate in the type of license granted to a D.O. and an M.D.?
Physicians in Georgia are either Medical Doctors (MD's) or Doctors of Osteopathy (DO's). A Doctor of Osteopathy is a physician who has been trained at an Osteopathic Medical School. These physicians are trained in all aspects of medicine with additional training in osteopathic manipulation, which is an added tool in the aid of diagnosis and treatment. Osteopathic manipulation is the movement of the bones and joints. One basic principle of Osteopathic Medicine is recognizing that there is a direct relationship between the structure and functionality of the body specifically with regard to the neuromuscular and musculoskeletal systems. MD's and DO's are classified as "physicians" in Georgia. The Medical Board makes no distinction between the two and both are issued the same type of medical license. However, for statistical information and because other state and federal agencies as well as professional organizations often seek information "only on MD's" or "only on DO's," we do keep this information on our database.
Is there a difference between the Georgia Medical Board and the Georgia Composite Medical Board?
No, the Georgia Composite Medical Board, our official name by state law, is also known as the "Georgia Medical Board" or even just the "Medical Board." There is only one agency that issues medical licenses. We are known as a "composite" medical board because we are also mandated by the Georgia General Assembly to regulate physician assistants, respiratory care professionals, acupuncturists, perfusionists, orthotists, prosthetists and auricular (ear) detoxification specialists as well as physicians.