In her article Top Doctors, Dead or Alive in the August 12, 2014 edition of the New York Times, Abigail Zuger, MD talks about the “Best Doctor” lists that are published yearly. Many patients read New York Magazine and Castle and Connolly’s lists of Best Doctors, and either check for their physician or look for one to go to based on these lists. But is that the best way to go about finding a doctor that is right for you? One fallacy of these lists pointed out by Dr. Zuger was a physician who had died 16 years earlier but was still listed as a “Best” doctor.
There are many ways to get onto one of these lists and each source lists how they go about selecting physicians. Often referrals from other physicians help a doctor get onto these lists. Sadly, one of the ways physicians can increase their chances of being selected is by hiring a publicist to get his/her name circulated in the news media—both television and print. This form of “advertising” can boost a person’s opinion of a particular doctor. Even another doctor’s opinion.
I have been on Castle and Connolly’s Best Doctors lists for many years, and have once again been chosen as a Top Doc for 2014. New York Magazine has also selected me for their Best Doctors list from time to time. Why I make it one year and not the next is not clear to me. What I do know is that I don’t have a publicist, and perhaps that is one of the reasons.
How to Really Evaluate a Physician
I believe that when one searches for a physician, these are the things to look for.
1. Board certification in their specialty. Check out the doctor online. In New York State it is easy. Just go to the New York State physician profile site here. You can learn where your doctor went to school, where he or she trained, and their board certification. If the doctor has a bad malpractice record, you will learn that as well. Also, any problems with professional misconduct will be listed. In addition the American Board of Medical Specialties Website here will give you additional information on the board certification of your doctor.
I don’t believe that many of the popular patient Website reviews are valuable to patients. Why? Because the patients who write reviews are usually those who are either very happy or very annoyed. Thus, reviews are often skewed either low or high. I would worry if all the reviews you read of a particular physician are great, as someone may be falsifying them. Just as there is no way that everyone loves the same restaurant, it is not possible that everyone loves the same doctor. Remember, there are no perfect physicians, as there are no perfect patients.
2. The feeling you get when you see your doctor. Does your doctor answer your questions and spend adequate time with you? It is true that today’s health insurance pays so little that it is often hard to get everything in during your 10-minute slot, which is why clear, concise communication is very important by both the physician and the patient. Will the doctor be around on weekends and nights if you have an issue? Does s/he look at you when you are talking or is s/he engrossed in the computer, charting your data in their electronic record. Charts were much more personal, whereas computers are impersonal; this puts a large electronic wedge between the patient and the physician (you’ll hear more from me on this topic at a later date).
3. Is your doctor affiliated with a good hospital network? If so, your doctor’s credentials have been vetted by hospital administration and s/he should be well qualified. This also gives your doctor a large network of specialists to choose from in case you need other specialized care. Also, you don’t always need to see the “Chief.” Often they are chosen more for their administrative skills rather than patient care skills, so don’t be swayed by that credential alone.
So find a doctor you like, who is kind, gives you time, answers your questions. If s/he are on someone’s “Best” list, all the better, but don’t make that your only selection criterion.