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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  • Jeff J.

    Thanks for the behind the scenes look at these best doc magazine issues. Do you get a chance to turn down this opportunity to be named best doc and save yourself some time?

  • Benjamin Lynch ND

    Thanks for clarifying that.

    Interesting article. It appears the ‘Who’s Who in XYZ’ is a similar gig. Who hasn’t been invited to be in that book?

    Dr Ben

  • ninguem

    I know I’ve worked in big box settings, (hopsital-owned medical groups, or big independent organizations), where the management politics, campaigns with their “owned” docs, to make sure they send votes for their own people to those “top doc” magazine articles in the city mags.

    The same logic, I suppose, that gets every hospital in the country in the “top 5%” in some advertisement.

  • Doc

    Hmmm. Did I read a similar article last year or so? Déjà vu maybe.

  • jsmith

    Kinda like who’s who among America’s high school students. You’ve won, now buy this!
    Funny about the investment advisors, though. A med school buddy of mine, a neurologist by coincidence, was once told by his divorce lawyer, ” I can’t believe how little money you make.” I guess he confused neurology with neurosurgery or something.

  • AA

    Regarding a local best doc, when I told him I couldn’t take epinephrine, he disregarded what I said and gave it to me anyway. I did have a reaction although fortunately, it was minor.

    When he tried to give a relative medicine, this person said it was contraindicated for a medical condition she had. This doctor insisted she was wrong.

    The pharmacist backed up the relative.

    Anyway, I thought I would share that story in light of this article.

  • Ellen

    As the Marketing VP at a large, well known specialty hospital, I was surprised to receive a “Dear Colleague” letter from the leading Best Doctors publisher. The letter invited me to log on to its website, use the nomination access code on the letter, and submit up to 25 nominations for one of their best doctors guides. Need I say more???

  • paradocs2

    Well, I have a slightly different perspective. Yes the commerial exploitation of ego is always there. Nonetheless, I am a family doc and am very active in social causes and medical advocacy. Some years ago, when the governor nominated me to join the state medical licensing board a delegation from the county medical society went to his office to protest (I went on to serve for 8 years.) In our town the “Best Docs” list is made up by nominations by and polling of members of the county medical society. Thus I was was both suprised and gratified to be selected among the best family doctors in a recent year.

  • medical sites

    The best doctor anymore is the lucky individual or group at the top of the Google rankings. They don’t find you where they are looking and you are out of luck – regardless of your reputation.

    All starts with the right domain (webb address)…….and they you need to get find your way to the top of Google.

    Doctors of the world………your thoughts.

  • David Lubin, MD

    There are similar scams out there in photography. You’re invited to enter a photo contest with cash prizes (of which I’ve never won any and I’m a decent photographer… and then your photos will be published in a book. Of course, there’s an entry fee and then they try to sell you the book so you can show your friends and family that you’ve been “published.”

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