Fine Print: “Doctors: Best of 2013”​ List Does Not List the Best Doctors

Originally published on LinkedIn in 2013.

Every major city has publications that publish an annual “Best of” list, which includes everything from pizza parlors to physicians. A cynic might say these “best physicians” lists are, at best, a popularity contest for well-known doctors.

My new home town of San Antonio has a publication with a “Doctors: Best of 2013” issue. The fine print is unintentionally hilarious:

It reads, in part:

“S.A. Doctors: Best of 2013 is the name of our publication, not a title or moniker conferred upon individual physicians.”


The fine print continues, getting finer, with no apparent sense of irony or shame:

“No representation is made that the quality of services provided by the physicians listed will be greater than that of other licensed physicians.”

Well, of course, since these aren’t the “best doctors,” as the magazine points out in its “DOCTORS: BEST OF 2013” issue. Yet, the cover clearly implies they are the “best doctors” listed inside.

So why are these lists and issues published??

Apparently, the old advice of “follow the money” is still helpful.

Issues like this are full of ads from physicians that trumpet they are one of the “best doctors” (yet again) in the city. Apparently they didn’t read the fine print. This issue must be a big money maker for the publication.

Oh, and this doctor isn’t necessary a “Best Doctor” (who isn’t necessarily one of the best doctors anyway, per the fine print), but she has merely been nominated. I’d like to know if any doctors in town were NOT nominated.

It’s sad that patients have silly lists like this instead of real quality data to use in choosing physicians, surgeons, or hospitals.

Is this the best form of marketing the physicians have? Are silly lists like this holding back healthcare quality improvement or are they just a distraction and a waste of marketing dollars?

Note: this local publication is not affiliated with the lists or methodology.

2018 Update: But, it turns out the Top Doctors list is dubious too, since they called and offered noted healthcare journalist Marshall Allen a “Top Doctors” award. He didn’t seek this out. ‘They cold-called him and claimed he had been nominated. He told them he was a journalist and not a doctor… but they sold it to him for $99 anyway.

His story is an example of “truth is stranger than fiction.”

It’s a gripping read. And also check out his important work on patient safety, including this one blog post that I was allowed to publish on under Creative Commons license.