‘Groovy’ doctor honor

Peter J. McDonnell, MD, discusses a cottage industry that sells wall plaques touting a physician's "accomplishments." Is it a legitimate offer or are they just after your money?

Peter J. McDonnell, MD, discusses a cottage industry that sells wall plaques touting a physician's "accomplishments." Is it a legitimate offer or are they just after your money?

I admit to being one of those arrogant, egotistical, and self-absorbed physicians. This became painfully evident one day, many years ago, when a letter arrived in the mail informing this young ophthalmologist that yours truly had been elected by my fellow physicians as one of the top doctors in the country.

Aside from confirming my faith in the good judgment of my fellow doctors, the letter provided me with the opportunity to send a check to this fine organization with a sharp eye for medical talent. In return for my check, I would receive a plaque, suitable for hanging on the wall where as many passers-by as possible would be forced to view it and realize they were in the presence of medical greatness.

It wasn’t me making the claim. The plaque spoke for the consensus of the medical community when it proclaimed the skills of this humble servant. Little did I know that over the ensuing decades, I would receive multiple opportunities to bask in similar recognitions from organizations that I was deserving of the title of “Best,” “Super,” “Top” or some other adjective suggesting that I possessed whatever stuff gives rise to being a superior healer of eye problems.

Each of these nice letters stroked my ego while also offering me the chance to acquire another plaque. Tempting as it was to accumulate all this proof of the high regard with which I was held in my profession, I didn’t want to make my lack of humility painfully obvious to all and I declined to order any more of these wall decorations.

With age comes a certain amount of skepticism, and the frequency with which I was offered the opportunity to send checks to those who wished to honor me did begin to make me wonder. But I wasn’t being skeptical enough.

In a recent article brought to my attention by a loyal Ophthalmology Times reader, an investigative journalist who publishes on healthcare issues was invited to order a plaque for $99 celebrating his being selected as a “Top Doctor.” (This was an attractive opportunity, given that the usual cost was $289.)

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According to the article, the reporter inquired how he had been selected to receive this “Top Doctor” designation. The reply came that the awardees are selected by their peers and that there is a research team involved. Beyond that, the specifics were “proprietary.”

The reporter said he was a journalist and was deficient in many of the key elements one associates with a great physician, not the least of which included the lack of a medical school diploma. He then asked if he could still receive the award and buy his plaque. The answer from the employee of the Long Island, NY, company was “yes.”What is the lesson here?

We can safely conclude the presence of a wall plaque testifying to superb physician qualities indicates the presence of someone with $99 burning a hole in his or her pocket. It does not mean the person necessarily went to medical school.

It also means there is a business model to profit from the ego of doctors. Because so many of the adjectives are already claimed by the plaque-producing companies in New York, Minnesota, and elsewhere, according to the article, I have realized it will be necessary to create a new category of excellence. A quick glance at my thesaurus made it clear that several nice options remain unclaimed, including “magnificent,” “smashing,” and “peerless.”

But I finally settled on a term that has great meaning from my youth. Mail me your check for $99 now to receive your plaque proclaiming you to be a “Groovy Doctor.” 

References:

https://www.propublica.org/article/top-doctors-award-journalist