Generating Best Doctors lists has become a money maker and fast growing business for magazines and book publishers. The lists are compiled in the following manner: Forms are sent out to randomly selected board-certified doctors. Doctors are asked to nominate other doctors who in their judgment are the best in their area of specialty. The results are then tabulated and the doctor’s certifications and disciplinary history are reviewed. Thus a new list is generated, one that can be sold in many ways.
For $159 doctors can purchase personalized mahogany plaques for their offices that display the magazine cover with the doctor’s name and specialty etched below. For $200 and more, there are plaques, pens and trophies to order that can be even be mounted ‘sports award’ style doutor score. The publisher Castle Connolly has almost 20 doctor directory books for sale with some costing $79.95.
Generating “Best Doctor” lists is a good business but all these lists don’t really make it any easier to find good doctors. The lists are in the end promotional vehicles for the doctors, their Zagat’s Rated, a more exclusive Yellow Pages. Finding the best doctor for you though, is much more important than choosing a restaurant or picking a movie to see that night. It has to be an informed choice.
The first thing getting in the way of that is the politics of the medical profession. It influences heavily who gets on these lists. There are politically powerful doctors, institutions, medical groups. In medicine, ‘reputation is the coin of the realm,’ so doctors compete heavily for awards, stature, and positions on lists.
The second obstacle for those seeking good doctors is that the lists generally undercount the best doctors because of a need to cover every geographic location evenly. But there are a lot of good doctors at Sloan-Kettering, and in our major cities, where the best medical talent congregates. List makers want to sell their lists by every region, because that brings the most revenue.
The third obstacle is that the list makers give you no sense as to what it would be like to visit this doctor. How is the office run, how are the patients treated, how did the doctor treat you? In the end, a good doctor scores well on all these points.
Best Doctor lists are really best read as a strategy that many practices adopt to market themselves, and have for that some entertainment value, like reading movie or restaurant reviews. But when it comes to you and your family’s health, the Best Doctor’s lists are just glorified ads. The best place to start is with the people you already know and trust, your family, friends and current doctors.