Best Doc in a magazine, the inside story

You’ve seen it, somewhere.

Every city in America, and likely the world, has a local magazine. And once a year, that magazine publishes a “Best Docs” issue, usually listing 10 doctors from each specialty who they consider the best of the best.

Dr. Grumpy, for the record, is not biased against this. I’ve been named a “Best Doc” in my field several times.

And I know most of the other neurologists on the list. Some of them are very good (likely better than me) but there are always a few doctors on the list who I know are incompetent, or even dangerous. Yet, they somehow made the list, too. And there are always quite a few damn good neurologists who never make the list at all.

So how does this happen?

It’s hard to judge doctors. Even good doctors get sued, and have medical board complaints against them. I have a lot of patients who love me. And some who hate me and think I’m incompetent. You can’t predict the vagaries of human chemistry.

Most of these magazines try to poll doctors. They send out ballots to local docs, and ask us to write down our favorites for each specialty. So to some extent it’s really just a popularity contest. Other magazines have patients vote. Generally, an incompetent doctor with his name out there, doing TV and newspaper interviews, seems to be more likely to get votes then a competent person quietly toiling away in an obscure practice.

So what does it mean to be a “Best Doc” like yours truly? It’s flattering, but here’s what really happens.

I find out that I’m in the coveted issue about one month before it goes to press. This is because someone from the magazine calls me, to tell me that I made it, and (more to the point) ask me if I’d like to buy advertising space in the issue to complement my name being in it. No, thanks.

A few weeks later the magazine calls back, this time to see how many copies of the famous issue I’d like to buy, to give to friends, family, employees, patients, anyone. No, thanks. I subscribe to the magazine, anyway, for my lobby, so I get one copy as it is. And that’s enough.

Then the magazine hits the stands. A few things happen:

1. I get calls and letters from companies trying to sell me a plaque, framed copy of the issue, or something else to hang on my office wall to let people know I made “Best Docs.” All at a special price of only $49.95 up to $199.95 (depending on what materials and how much bling I choose for my “limited edition” item). No, thanks.

2. I get calls and letters from investment companies, stock brokers, insurance salesmen, and financial planners, congratulating me on my recognition and wanting to meet with me to discuss my financial health, since obviously anyone who’s on the “Best Docs” list must have a lot of cash lying around. They even offer to take me to lunch. Sorry, guys, but whether or not we make “Best Docs” is immaterial to how much a doc really makes. And the reality of most docs today is that we’re lucky to support our families. So no, thanks.

3. I get calls and letters from my city’s professional sports teams, telling me that as a “Best Doc” my life isn’t complete until I buy season tickets. This year a team offered me a free pair of nosebleed seats in exchange for me attending a 30 minute sales presentation on the benefits of season tickets. No, thanks.

4. A few patients see my name in the magazine and call for an appointment.

This is always the scariest bunch. I know it’s not easy to find a good doc, but if you’re coming to me just because Local Magazine said so, you’d do better asking your own doctor, or friends, for names.

In general, the patients who come to me solely on the magazine’s referral are some of the most dreaded ones in my practice. Why? Because they’ve almost always been through several previous neurologists who weren’t able to fix them.

But, by a leap of reasoning, they assume that Dr. Grumpy, because he made the “Best Docs” issue, will be THE doctor who can reverse their 30 years of chronic pain. Who can cure Grandma’s Alzheimer’s disease. Who can work some incredible miracle that 7 previous, perfectly competent, neurologists were unable to. Nope. And then they get angry when they find out I’m no more of a miracle worker than the other docs were.

And what happens to the one copy of the magazine that I do subscribe to?

In past years I used to save them. Take them home, put them in a pile of stuff. I have no idea why. At some point I realized they were just a bunch of old magazines, and tossed them in the recycling can.

The one copy that comes here is glanced through by me, my colleague and our staffs for a day or two, to see who else made the list. Then it joins the other magazines in the lobby.

And within two days of being put out there, it disappears. Taken by an unknown patient.

And that’s what it means to be a “Best Doc.”

Doctor Grumpy is a neurologist who blogs at Doctor Grumpy in the House.

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