Before the COVID pandemic, I was returning from a conference in Orlando. A few minutes after the pilot turned off the seat belt sign, my iPod battery died. I grabbed one of those inflight magazines and came across a page titled “Greatest Doctors in America.” I flipped through a few pages until I found “Greatest Eye Surgeons in America.” Huh? I go to all of the meetings. I read all of the literature. I see all of the published results. I know who lectures at conferences and symposia. I have an insider’s track in my very narrow field of expertise, just like any other profession. I’ve even won awards; damn it, and I did recognize one name on the list. Either I need to get out more, or there is something amiss.
Let me start by saying that there is no such thing as a ranking system for doctors. No AP or Coach’s Poll comes out every Tuesday morning, with the Top 50 rankings for each specialty. No national survey to find the top doctors on the planet or anywhere else. There is absolutely no central databank that keeps detailed statistics on all doctors.
So, from where do these rankings come? Most of the ones I have encountered are paid advertisements made to look like legitimate surveys. Every other month, I will get something in the mail that reads like this:
Dear Dr. Keszei,
Congratulations. Our selection committee has nominated you to be included in our list of “Greatest Doctors on the Face of the Planet.” We have gone through a very lengthy process to honor your lifelong achievements as an outstanding physician
. However, to consider your nomination, there are no fees or remunerations involved. We would like you to buy our latest volume of Greatest Doctors on the Face of the Planet that comes with this handsome wall plaque for display in your office or practice reception area. All this for the low cost of $599.00.
I’m so honored; where’s my checkbook?
These rankings are similar to restaurant reviews.
Recently, my wife and I went to San Diego for a meeting. We scoured the internet for restaurant reviews, looked through the free pamphlets you find at the hotel registration desk, asked the concierge, and finally came up with a list of top restaurants in San Diego. After two days of mediocre meals and half a bottle of antacid tablets, we were pretty discouraged. Finally, we just asked one of the local cab drivers, and he told us about a small hole-in-the-wall place that he liked for Mexican food. We figured what have we got to lose. It turned out to be some of the best food we’ve eaten in public in the last several years. The food was incredible! It wasn’t listed on any of the numerous “Best of” lists we read anywhere, yet it was the best. At least to us. If I gave you the name of this place, you might disagree, but that’s the point. It was what WE liked based on our opinion. No lab analyzes the food for taste and gives it a ranking.
The same is true for doctor rankings; they are based on opinion and not on diagnostic abilities and treatment outcomes. There is no governing body that watches over my shoulder to monitor; nowhere do I submit my data and receive a score. The same goes for hospitals. Have you ever seen a hospital advertisement that DIDN’T claim to be ranked in the Top 5 or Top 10% in some poll or survey at one time or another? Just take it for what it’s worth and keep things in context. The primary purpose of these “Top Doc” awards is to stroke the doctor’s ego and get them to buy the wall plaque, book, statue, or trophy at a wildly inflated price.
Are all of these rankings bogus?
No. In all fairness, there are very few that require a nomination by other doctors. These are based on opinion rather than cold hard facts. Many of the nominations are by doctors who have already been selected and certainly not inclusive of all physicians in a specific area. Most of these are awarded to major medical centers heavily involved in research.
Not long ago, I received one of these awards in the mail announcing that I was selected as one of the greatest ophthalmologists in the world. It stated that I had been chosen using a point system of distinction and excellence (criteria unknown) along with an offer to purchase their guide and various trophies and wall plaques. What I said above wasn’t even close. I was way off. The total package if you bought everything was over $2400.00. There was even a website where I could send patients to see that this was legitimate. I tried entering my name; after all, I was selected. It came up, Not Found. Hmmm, the check must not have cleared yet.
This newsletter does not constitute medical advice. Make sure to contact your healthcare provider if you experience any of these conditions. Do not make any changes to your medications before consulting your physician.