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Top Doctors, Dead or Alive

Specializes in Vents, Telemetry, Home Care, Home infusion. Has 43 years experience.

From NY Times

August 11, 2014

Top Doctors, Dead or Alive

By ABIGAIL ZUGER, M.D.

The official letter is sitting on my desk, announcing that a relative of mine has just been named one of the world's top physicians in his area of expertise. Once he confirms his biographical details, he is guaranteed inclusion in online and print directories of similarly honored peers ("not only a tribute to your success, but also a valuable resource for potential patients").

I can clearly imagine his reaction had he opened the letter himself: a combination of amusement, dismay and just a small hint of pleasure. However, since he has been dead for 16 years, his widow passed the envelope over to me, and I got to experience all those emotions myself....

...In fact, nobody knows who the top doctors are, not even the top doctors themselves. It is safe to say that the very topmost doctors, confusingly, are probably not top doctors: They have become news media stars and household names through efforts that presumably leave them little time to hone those top-doctor skills. But otherwise, all is smoke and mirrors.

Can the average consumer glean any information at all from the top doc lists? Here is one tip: Pay attention to the source of the information. Traits that doctors prize in their colleagues may be different from the ones patients rank high. Consultants who will see any patient at the drop of a hat-referring doctors love that-may have jam-packed waiting rooms and move with the speed of greased pigs. The rock stars of modern medicine, experts who publish widely and lecture all over the globe, may spend most of their workweeks in flight, inaccessible for humbler purposes.

Otherwise, I suspect we are left with only a single unarguable definition of a top doctor: one who is not on the bottom. Top doctors are, for instance, not in jail. They have valid licenses. They are presumably enthusiastic about taking new patients (although you can never be sure how enthusiastic they'll be about their insurance). I used to think that at least they were all living and breathing, but now I guess you can't be sure of that, either.