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Who can’t buy a “Top Doctor” award?

Written by Diane Archer

Marshall Allen reports for Pro Publica on winning a “Top Doctor” award, even though he is not a doctor. It’s more evidence that there are better ways to choose a doctor or a hospital than to rely on ratings. Who can’t buy a “Top Doctor” award?

In most cases, doctor awards and multi-star ratings have no merit whatsoever. Even when you see these awards or ratings on a government website or in your local hospital or in a magazine advertisement, do not assume they mean anything. You can’t even trust Medicare star ratings, as we have reported.

Curiously, even when Allen clarified with the company awarding him a “Top Doctor” award that he is a journalist and not a physician, he was told he could still have the award. The catch was that he had to pay for the award–$289.00!  After he hemmed and hawed a little about the price, the price came down to $99.00.

Allen then investigated the array of companies who give out awards. There are a lot of them. And, they all make money bestowing honors upon doctors. Of course, these awards are scams. But, the executives from the award companies claim their companies do research on the doctors to whom they give awards.

One executive said that magazines that feature the “Top Doctor” are big sellers. But, none of the executives Allen spoke with suggested that the doctors receiving these awards are any better than doctors who do not receive them. And, they are careful not to recommend people actually see the award-winning doctors.

Polling of doctors to decide who wins awards is not a good measure of who is good either, according to Dr. John Santa, formerly of Consumer Reports. There are all kinds of biases baked into these types of surveys. Results based on objective measures are the only reliable ones. And, it is almost impossible to get those when it comes to doctors.

P.S. Allen ended up buying an award and plaque. It shows his specialty as “Investigator!”

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