Rx for finding a top doc

John J. Connolly

“Unfortunately, most people spend more time investigating and selecting a new restaurant than they do vetting out a doctor,” John J. Connolly says.

Connolly, former president of New York Medical College, and John K. Castle – former head of The Joint Commission, the body that confers accreditation on medical institutions – set out to redress that situation. The result is “America’s Top Doctors,” part of a series of continually updated publications designed to aid consumers in finding the best health care available.

A native of Worcester, Mass., Connolly has had a long -standing interest in health care.

After graduating from Worcester State University, he went on to the University of Connecticut for a master’s degree, then earned his Ed.D. in college and university administration from Columbia University’s Teachers College in 1972.

That’s when he began his career in community college administration – a prescient choice considering the vital role that the community college plays in education today. As president of Dutchess Community College for 10 years, he promoted allied health programs at the college and was active with health care organizations and initiatives in the Hudson Valley. He also served as chairman of the board of directors of St. Francis Hospital and Health Centers in Poughkeepsie.

Around 1982, Connolly was invited to join the board of directors of New York Medical College in Valhalla.

“At the time, John Castle was board chairman and he recruited me to help turn the medical school around. It was struggling in several different areas.”

Connolly succeeded in working with the board to get New York Medical College back on track and was subsequently elected president.

“Working with John Castle and the other board members, it took us less than two years to achieve our objectives,” he adds.

When Connolly left the medical college a decade later, he and Castle decided to collaborate on a book.

“John said we both got so many calls for recommendations and referrals on doctors that we should write one. I agreed.”

The first edition of “America’s Top Doctors – New York Metropolitan Area” was published in 1994. The pair expanded the publication five years later to “America’s Top Doctors,” which takes in the entire country.

“The publication included information on 45,000 board-certified doctors the first year. Five years later, we had 230, 000,” Connolly says.


Seeking the best

“Our goal is simply to help people find the best doctors available. We are strictly consumer-oriented. We identify outstanding doctors, providing information on medical education, training, hospital appointments, disciplinary histories and much more. Only those doctors who are among the very best in their specialties and in their communities are selected for inclusion.”

Connolly says many people are at a loss when it comes to picking a doctor.

“Surprisingly enough, location of the doctor tops the requirements of many patients. Most patients don’t know anything about board certification and other criteria that we consider to be basic.”

The majority of patients start out looking for a doctor by asking friends and relatives, he says. If they are looking for a specialist, they will often ask their primary care physician.

“This is a good starting point, but we believe it doesn’t go far enough,” Connolly says. “We believe a hybrid approach, using recommendations, referrals and the information contained in ‘America’s Top Doctors’ works very well on behalf of patients. Doctors can be thoroughly checked out and patients can move beyond the limited referrals provided by family, friends and their own doctors.”

Connolly said that “America’s Top Doctors” can help patients break through geography and move beyond their local areas.

“This is important if you have a critical issue and the best doctor for you might be elsewhere,” he says. “Our charge is to nominate, investigate and publish a huge database of doctors all over the country.”

Since the publication of “America’s Top Doctors” and “Top Doctors – New York Metropolitan Area,” Castle Connolly Medical Ltd. has set up an online directory, at castleconnolly.com. The company has also forged partnerships with 40 regional magazines across the country that feature top doctors in their areas on an annual basis.

“Every year, the issue featuring top doctors becomes the number one-selling issue of that magazine,” Connolly says.


Getting selected

Still, consumers can be skeptical creatures, particularly when it comes to health care: What are the criteria for inclusion? The Castle-Connolly doctor selection process is based on peer nominations. All licensed physicians are invited to participate in an online process that involves contacting more than 50,000 physicians and hospital and health care executives directly.

Physicians can nominate other doctors whom they think are the most outstanding in their medical specialties, in any area of medicine and in any part of the country. They can indicate whether they believe the physician is among the best in their particular region or among the best in the nation. Already selected Top Doctors are encouraged to participate in the process. But a doctor cannot nominate himself or herself, nor does any money change hands in the nominating process.

Each year, nearly 100,000 doctor nominations are received. After they’re in, the Castle-Connolly physician-led research team makes tens of thousands of phone calls, talking with leading specialists, chairs of clinical departments and vice presidents of medical affairs, seeking to gather further information on top specialists for most diseases and procedures.

The research team then reviews the credentials of every physician nominated. The review includes scrutiny of medical education, training, board certifications, hospital appointments, administrative posts, professional achievements and malpractice and disciplinary history.

Connolly said that ultimately, it is the professional judgment of the Castle Connolly physician-led staff that determines Top Doctor selection.

After review, nominated doctors may be listed as a regionally outstanding or a nationally outstanding Top Doctor. Regional Top Doctors are sought-after physician leaders in their communities and metropolitan areas. National Top Doctors are the top referred specialists in America that attract patients from wide geographic areas.


Raising consciousness

Connolly says “America’s Top Doctors” is an example of empowering consumers.

“We believe that we are making a difference. Finding the top doctor for your needs can have a major impact on your outcome. Patients in our area are fortunate, because 10 percent of the top doctors in all specialties and primary care are in the New York metropolitan region.”

He and Castle are more than satisfied with the outcome of their venture:

“We are happy to support a growing awareness of the importance of having the best doctor and will continue to provide the latest information and assistance.”

For more, visit castleconnolly.com.

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