Miriam Berenson learned how to be a good patient the hard way. Diagnosed with breast cancer fourteen years ago, she wanted to go with chemotherapy, but her surgeon insisted that radiation would be enough. Berenson acquiesced, but five years later, the cancer was back. She gathered her medical records, threw herself into researching the field, and found an oncologist with whom she felt “an instant rapport,” someone who listened. “Now I don’t just sit back and say yes,” says Berenson, a 61-year-old homemaker from Woodbury, New York. To her mind, she had found the best doctor in New York. But truth be told, there’s really no such animal. What she found was the right doctor for her. Strip away the MRIs and the blood tests, the framed degrees on the wall and the paper-covered examination tables, and the practice of medicine still boils down to a partnership between a doctor and a patient. “They are going on a journey together,” says Dr. Sherwin Nuland, author of The Wisdom of the Body. “One of them knows the path the other will have to take, and they should trust each other.” In the old days, according to Dr. Albert Levy, a family practitioner at Beth Israel, “the doctor was always right, and the patient would simply have to be cured.” Now the era of the autocratic doctor, who not only knows best but knows all, is over. “Doctors are no longer gods,” says Dr. Jonathan LaPook, an internist and assistant professor of medicine at New York Presbyterian. “We’re detectives. But you can’t play Sherlock Holmes without clues, and it’s up to the patient to provide the clues.” Choosing a doctor is tantamount to choosing a mate – chemistry is crucial. “If you don’t have a good relationship with your doctor, it could be bad for your health,” says John Connolly, former president of New York Medical College and co-founder of Castle Connolly Medical, the research and publishing firm that created this issue’s list of best doctors. “Eighty percent of all diagnoses are made from good examining and interviewing techniques.”
Good doctors listen, says Connolly, and good patients talk. Still, the patient hires the doctor, not the other way around. “Patients should be the boss,” says Dr. Samuel Waxman, a specialist in hematology and oncology at Mount Sinai hospital, “not the doctor. This is your deal, your problem. The best way to get over the fear is to be in charge. And you have to take control.”
If everything’s working right, the doctor-patient relationship should be satisfying to both sides of the equation. “I learn from my patients,” says Dr. Saud Sadiq, a neurologist at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital. “I really am friends with them. Sometimes I’m emotionally spent at the end of the day, but there are rewards. I learn from their bravery, and I learn about how much we take for granted. It makes me thankful for every day that I have good health.”
This year’s “Best Doctors” issue is our biggest ever: 1,498 physicians throughout the New York metropolitan area, all of whom come highly recommended by their peers. And for the first time, we have gone beyond the five boroughs to include Westchester County, Rockland County, Nassau and Suffolk counties in Long Island, Fairfield County in Connecticut, and eight counties in northern and central New Jersey (Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, and Union). New York City has some of the top specialists and best medical institutions in the world, but because most day-to-day medical care should be local, it’s important to identify good health care in every community.
Castle Connolly created the current rankings based on an all-new survey conducted over the past several months. Researchers sent out preliminary surveys to 20,000 doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators, asking Whom would you send a member of your family to? Nominees were sought in every specialty, with particular emphasis put on patient care over academic excellence or research. The initial survey, supplemented by hundreds of phone calls to additional doctors and professionals, produced more than 15,000 nominees. For their forthcoming guide, How to Find the Best Doctors, Castle Connolly selected the top 6,000 vote-getters. For New York’s “Best Doctors” issue, they made one more pass, creating an even more selective list.
This list has certain built-in limitations readers should be aware of. Castle Connolly has tried to avoid including doctors who, for one reason or another, are likely to be impossible to reach on the phone or get an appointment with. These include many respected heads of departments, teachers, researchers, and clinicians doing double-duty as administrators. The list has a slight but unavoidable bias against excellent younger doctors, since they are often not yet as well known among their peers as older doctors. And finally, because the rankings are based exclusively on surveys sent to doctors and other health-care professionals, the patient’s perspective occasionally gets short shrift. The list, therefore, cannot be treated as the last word; it should be but one tool among many. Speak with friends, talk to other patients, and consult your primary-care physician. When you meet a doctor for the first time, don’t be afraid to question him or her closely. And pay attention to first impressions. “When you buy something, you want to know everything about it,” says Dr. Waxman. “When you’re in a doctor’s office, ask yourself, Do I want to come back here? Is there an upbeat atmosphere in the office? You should get a good feeling from the nurses and assistants, who are a reflection of the doctor. You should feel good there.”
Good patients also know how to protect themselves, and if you are not 100 percent convinced of a doctor’s bona fides, you can try consulting the book 16,638 Questionable Doctors, published by the Public Citizens Health Research Group (800-289-3787), which lists doctors who have been disciplined by state or federal agencies. Your state’s health department can also provide information on past disciplinary actions taken against a physician. (The New York State Department of Health’s Website can be located at www.health.state.ny.us.)
Each doctor in this issue is listed under the specialty or subspecialty in which he or she was nominated. Names are followed by subspecialties or areas of interest, county or borough, office phone number, primary hospital, and HMOs. Insurance looms over every medical decision these days, and we asked each doctor to list up to eight of the most commonly offered managed-care plans he or she accepts. HMO affiliations are constantly changing, practically on a weekly basis, and dozens of smaller plans were excluded because of space, so before making an appointment, be sure to confirm which plans a doctor will accept. In some cases, a doctor has decided to refuse to accept any managed-care plan, while others simply decline to specify. We have left these entries blank.
Finally, ten New York doctors have been chosen for our second medical Hall of Fame. This select group of practitioners embody the qualities – skill, empathy, experience, intelligence, and good humor – that we are all looking for whenever we step into an examining room. Happily, they are not hard to find in New York, and one of the greatest pleasures that comes from putting together this issue is discovering how many of them are out there.
Castle Connolly Guides The Best Doctors in New York 1999 list is excerpted from How to Find the Best Doctors: New York Metro Area (Fourth Edition), to be published in the fall by Castle Connolly Medical Ltd. It is based on extensive surveys of medical professionals in the New York area. The third edition is available now in bookstores or directly from the company (call 800-399-DOCS or visit their Website at www.bestdocs.com). For a fee, the current edition can also be searched online.