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

Top Doctor Awards Are Numerous and Confusing

ABC News found that there are dozens of different companies in the business of awarding some version of "Top Doctor" awards.

And while many of these designations are clearly egregious, some "Top Doctor" companies are more selective than others.

Castle Connolly, a research company founded in 1992, asks actual doctors to nominate top doctors—a way to find out who doctors themselves would go see if they were sick.

Dr. Jean Morgan, Vice-President and Chief Medical and Research Officer of Castle Connolly said, "Our mission really is to try and inform the general public of good doctors."

Castle Connolly has partnered with more than 40 magazine, newspaper, and websites for top doctor feature issues including regional magazines like Boston Magazine and Indianapolis Monthly and national magazines like US News and World Report.

In an interview with ABC News, John Connolly, President and CEO of Castle Connolly, said "We have a research team of 11 people who work full time who check on the backgrounds, education, and disciplinary records."

Yet ABC News found a few doctors on the Castle Connolly top doctors list who have been disciplined by their state medical boards in the last few months, including a radiation oncologist in Connecticut who was charged with a civil penalty of $5000 for treating the wrong side of a cancer patient's mouth with 29 separate radiation treatment sessions in 2006.

But within 24 hours of being notified of ABC News' findings, Castle Connolly sent an email to ABC News notifying us that doctors with disciplinary records identified by ABC News "have been removed" from the Castle Connolly "Top Doctor" lists.

Castle Connolly told ABC News they formally update their lists at least annually and that their lists are in a constant state of being updated.

Still, Castle Connolly is not without its critics, including many doctors who say Castle Connolly's selection process is nothing more than a popularity contest.

Dr. Kent Sepkowitz, Vice Chairman of Clinical Affairs in the Department of Medicine at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, said although Castle Connolly does "winnow out the lousy doctors for the most part," Castle Connolly is "absolutely a popularity contest."

"It's a popularity contest and like all popularity contests it becomes exclusive, self-fulfilling and over time loses its connection to the original attribute that was being evaluated," said Sepkowitz.

Castle Connolly told ABC News the nomination process is the basis for selecting top doctors, but it is not the entire selection process.

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