ABC News Investigates Top Doctor Awards: Are They Always Well Deserved?

Top Doctor Awards Lists

Dr. Janet Fleetwood, a medical ethicist and a Professor in the School of Public Health at Drexel University in Philadelphia said, "I'm horrified, as a medical ethicist…and as a patient, and a patient advocate as well- that that kind of thing is going on."

But ABC News discovered that these few cases are not just random oversights.

ABC News cross-referenced the Consumers' Research Council of America's "Top Doctor" lists with state medical board disciplinary databases- information easily available online for anyone to see.

ABC News' investigation looked at over 150 doctors with disciplinary records from 7 states- California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, New Jersey, New York, and Texas. And ABC News found that the Consumers' Research Council of America listed nearly one-third of those doctors with disciplinary records as "Top Doctors."

Dozens of these "Top Doctors" were charged and found guilty of serious allegations including fraud, harassment, assault, rape, negligence and sexual exploitation of children.

But experts are concerned because patients use top doctor recognitions and plaques as a way to compare and select doctors.

Fleetwood said, "you have information from the state boards that tell you that this physician has been involved in some very bad things, and then you have this award- there's a real problem."

"We're leading patients through those awards, to those physicians," Fleetwood said.

Was Patient a Victim of a 'Top Doctor'?

Maribeth Chase, a 77-year-old retired speech pathologist, had surgery at Shawnee Mission Medical Center in Shawnee Mission, Kan., for bleeding between her skull and her brain in 2007.

But after Maribeth Chase's two-hour surgery by neurosurgeon Dr. Robert Tenny, her family says nothing went as expected. She couldn't talk or move an entire side of her body and instead of going home in a fully functional state in one to two days as they claim Tenny had said, Chase ended up on life support and dead in a matter of weeks.

Only later did her family learn that an instrument had slipped during surgery injuring her brain. In a settlement that did not include an explicit admission of liability, the chase family received more than $1 million, including some of Tenny's own personal money.

And only later did the Chase family discover that Dr. Robert Tenny was listed as a "Top Surgeon," according to the Consumers' Research Council of America.

Chase's daughter, Claire Chase, told ABC News: "The idea that he is listed as a Top Doctor that would be recommended is just unthinkable to us."

But Tenny remains listed as a "Top Surgeon" despite more than a dozen medical malpractice cases against him between 1983 and the time of Maribeth Chase's surgery in 2007.

A representative from Shawnee Mission Medical Center confirmed for ABC News that after an internal hospital investigation and review, Tenny is no longer on staff at Shawnee Mission Medical Center.

But Tenny is still listed as a top surgeon on the Consumers' Research Council of America website and is still practicing medicine.

Repeated messages left for Dr. Robert Tenny by ABC News were not returned.

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