Top Doctors: Your Questions Answered

What you should know about who makes it onto our list — and who doesn’t

Who chooses the Top Doctors?
A company called Castle Connolly Medical Ltd., which each year publishes a guide to the nation’s top one percent of medical specialists, America’s Top Doctors (ninth edition, $34.95; available in bookstores and online at castleconnolly.com, or call toll-free 800-399-DOCS), as well as various regional Top Doctors guidebooks, and is also the leading partner with national and regional magazines for “Top Doctors” feature articles.

Why Castle Connolly?
After a thorough review of various companies offering physician ratings, as well as of our own experiences in choosing top doctors through an in-house survey for many years, we were convinced Castle Connolly’s methods produce the best list.

What are those methods?
Each year, Castle Connolly sends out tens of thousands of invitation letters to physicians in private practice—randomly selected—as well as to the medical leadership of major medical centers, specialty hospitals, teaching hospitals and regional medical centers. Invited physicians can go online to a special restricted-access website and nominate outstanding physicians in various specialties and subspecialties “to whom you would send members of your family.” The process asks not only for doctors who excel in academic medicine and research, but also for those with outstanding interpersonal skills. One of the features we like about Castle Connolly’s national survey process is that it enables outstanding doctors in the Philadelphia area to be nominated by their peers throughout the country, and not simply by other local doctors.

In addition, in preparation for Philadelphia magazine’s Top Doctors feature, in-depth surveying was implemented of every hospital in Camden, Philadelphia, Bucks, Montgomery, Chester and Delaware counties. (In this extra step, surveys were sent to hospital presidents, vice presidents of medical affairs or the equivalent position, and chiefs of service in surgery, medicine, obstetrics/gynecology, pediatrics, psychiatry, radiology, pathology and otolaryngology, asking them to nominate the best doctors they know. The Castle Connolly research staff also conducted extensive interviews by telephone with leading physicians, specialists, chiefs of service and health-care executives in the region. Among the criteria used to decide on Top Doctors are professional qualifications, education, residency, board certification, fellowships, professional reputation, hospital appointment, medical-school faculty appointment, experience, and disciplinary history.

Provisionally selected physicians were then asked to complete comprehensive professional biography forms and to provide information on their office practices and special practice interests. In the final selection phase, provisionally selected doctors were cross-referenced against a variety of databases in regard to their board certification, licensing, and disciplinary history.

Physicians selected for inclusion in our “Top Doctors” feature may also appear as regional Top Doctors online at castleconnolly.com, or in one of Castle Connolly’s national Top Doctors guides, such as America’s Top Doctors™ or America’s Top Doctors for Cancer™.

Do doctors pay to be on the list?
No. Physicians cannot and do not pay to be on the Castle Connolly list. They are selected through peer nomination.

One of my doctors made the list last year but isn’t on it this year. What’s that about?
Getting on the list once doesn’t guarantee you’ll always be on it. At the same time, falling off the list doesn’t mean a doctor is any less good. If you’re satisfied with your doctor, why be concerned?

Why are there so few Top Doctors in some specialties?
The number of physicians in each specialty is proportionate to the number of physicians board-certified by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) in that specialty. For example, more physicians are board-certified in surgery than in rheumatology, so there are more surgeons than rheumatologists on our list.

Why does board certification matter?
We believe that listing Top Doctors according to their ABMS certification helps to eliminate misleading claims by physicians and promotes a standard method of understanding and evaluating a doctor’s training and skills.

My doctor’s not on the list. Does that mean she’s not a good doctor?
Of course not. Because our list takes specialties and geographic location into account, and because it’s limited in size, plenty of fine physicians don’t appear on it. Bottom line: If you’re content with your care, and feel your relationship with a doctor is good, there’s no reason to change.

  • Laurie

    As a member of the medical community, each year physicians all over the US groan when this so-called “expert” list appears. Yes, there are good doctors on it. But there are doctors who have been convicted of crimes and who are known to be unethical on the list. Further, there are many of the best doctors in a given community are left off. However scientific the method, they completely miss the mark. The gather trash with the “best” and omit some of the finest doctors in town.

  • Jack

    What happens when a Top Doc botches the surgery and the department that must deal with the complications can’t or won’t deal with the poor outcome? The patient is victimized again. The list of Top Docs/Top Hospitals might look a lot different if patients/victims had a vote.

  • Sal

    How does a CT surgeon make the list when he hasn’t done surgery in 3 yrs??? Where are you getting your mis information from?

  • Avoid

    Never go to a doctor or hospital alone. Many of these “Top Doctors” or “Best Doctors” are super-felons and abusers.

  • Lee

    As a nurse I have worked with many physicians and many of the physicians on your top docs list I would never recommend to anyone. You need to have a nurses Top doc list they are the one who really know

  • Debra Macchi

    I live in Sarasota, Florida now but was born and raised in Philadelphia. After reading the “Top Doctor” issue of Sarasota magazine, I was apalled that a certain plastic surgeon was again chosen….especially since it is wide-spread knowledge amongst his PATIENTS that he is anything but a “top doctor”. Something just doesn’t seem right. It would seem that in an area such as plastic surgery, the choice should be made based on how actual patients feel about the outcome rather than their peers–unless, of course, they have actually had him do work on their bodies/faces. It makes me wonder about the validity of the Castle Connolly guide. Year after year many of us shake our heads.