ProPublica reporter with no MD named 'Top Doctor'

Veteran ProPublica reporter Marshall Allen has spent more than a decade investigating the healthcare industry and how health systems measure the quality of physicians. Because of his job as a journalist and lack of medical degree or any professional health degree, he said he was surprised when he received a call last year from an organization that sought to present him with a "Top Doctor" award.

Mr. Allen said in a piece for ProPublica published Feb. 28 that he received a call from a representative at Top Doctor Awards, who said Mr. Allen had been nominated by his peers and patients for the award. He informed the representative that he was a journalist but was still interested in receiving the award. The representative told him he was still eligible and asked him to pay a nominal $289 fee for the award. However, the price later dropped to $99.

"The plaque commemorates your achievements and more importantly communicates the achievements to your patients," the representative reportedly told Mr. Allen during the phone call.

Mr. Allen wrote that such awards are often heralded by physicians and used as proof of their medical prowess. Many patients also use such awards, which they assume are backed by thorough vetting, to determine which physicians they will seek out for care.

He said the experience made him curious about other organizations that praise "top doctors" and then charge them to market the honor. The owners of such companies who chose to speak with Mr. Allen emphasized their company's legitimacy. One organization said that they don't claim the physicians who receive the award are "the best," but instead say they are "'among the best, and ones we have screened carefully," often by checking eligible individuals' medical licenses, board certification, education and disciplinary history — all information easily available online, Mr. Allen said.

Mr. Allen said he was able to get in touch with a New York City-based sports medicine physician who received the same award he did. The physician said he was not surprised Top Doctor Awards honored him because he was "sort of in that echelon or class." However, when Mr. Allen informed him he had also received the recognition, the physician reportedly changed his tone, stating that Mr. Allen's award is "pretty strong evidence that [the award is] not legitimate," and that his assistant "might have … just sent in a check."

To access the full report, click here.

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