Is a top doctor award actually worth it?

By Physician Sense, for MDLinx
Published March 13, 2019

Key Takeaways

Many doctors likely have received a phone call similar to the one that Marshall Allen received.

You’ve just been selected as one of the region’s top doctors, the salesperson on the line said. Would you like to purchase a commemorative plaque for your practice?

The only problem is, Allen isn’t and never was a doctor. He’s an investigative journalist from ProPublica, and yet he was still able to purchase the plaque — even after telling the sales rep his occupation. You can read all about his deep dive into the pitfalls of top doctor accolades here.

Allen’s award prompts some important questions: In the age of fake news, is it still worth it to chase after these accolades to place on your practice walls? Are these awards vital methods of building doctor-patient trust, or merely a way of stroking a doctor’s ego? And from a pure business standpoint, are top-doctor placements a marketing tactic worth pursuing, or has the internet age made them obsolete?

Separating the good from the bad

The key distinction revealed by the ProPublica piece is that not all of the rating agencies are equal. Some are peer reviewed and others are pay-to-play. Stewart Gandolf, CEO of Healthcare Success, says aim for the former if you’re making top-doctor honors a part of your marketing strategy.

“It’s pretty varied in terms of what you’re actually getting,” Gandolf says. “If you have to pay to be included, it’s not the same as being nominated by your peers.”

But even that’s no guarantee. Allen was told he was nominated by his peers. It falls to the doctor to do a little digging and find out how credible those peers are and if they exist at all.


Laura Mikulski, VP of Business Development at Physician Referral Marketing, had a similar opinion.

“It’s often not a professional award by any stretch of the imagination,” says Mikulski. “Informed consumers know that doctors can buy their way in.”

However, both experts said that these awards do serve a purpose when incorporated appropriately into your practice’s marketing efforts.

Raising brand awareness

“It’s really a trust signal,” says Mikulski.

These awards help make patients feel comfortable with your level of capability. They also provide patients with bragging rights, she explains. If a patient has a positive experience with you, they’re more likely to recommend you to friends and family, adding that you are one of the top doctors in the area. It feels good for the patient to say that they’ve chosen one of the best doctors in the region for their ailment. It’s also a useful way for the patient to communicate that they trust the doctor when recommending them to friends or family.

According to Gandolf, many of these lists are formed in partnership with regional or statewide magazines. Top doctor issues tend to be among the most-read issues of the year, he adds.

“Patients see it. Patients will recognize you,” he says.

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