To identify many of the primary care physicians and specialists rated highest by their peers, we regularly send surveys to all actively practicing physicians in the seven metro areas where we publish Consumers’ Checkbook magazine—the Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, Seattle-Tacoma, Twin Cities, and Washington, DC, areas—and ask them to tell us which one or two specialists in each of 35 or more different specialty fields they “would consider most desirable for care of a loved one.”

In our Ratings Tables we indicate in the column “Top Rated by Other Doctors” the physicians who were mentioned by a sufficient number of other physicians in their area to meet our cutoff criteria. We also report the number of times the physician was mentioned by other physicians in our survey. Because of the nature of the survey, physicians in some specialties with large numbers of practitioners who could be mentioned, such as internal medicine, are unlikely to be mentioned more than a few times, while physicians in specialties with only a few practitioners—cardiac surgeons, for example—may get a large number of mentions. Accordingly, in some specialties we have listed doctors mentioned as few as three times; in other specialties, the cutoff was much higher.

We have attempted to compile accurate addresses, phone numbers, and credentials information for each physician, but these facts may have changed by the time you use the list; check the information when you call physicians.

Keep in mind that our survey didn’t ask about all specialties, so some physicians did not have an opportunity to be included on our lists.

Obviously, there are some possible biases in lists of this kind. For example, doctors could recommend close colleagues or other doctors with whom they have financially beneficial back-and-forth referral arrangements. Since we asked for recommendations in 38 specialty fields and invited doctors to recommend two doctors in each field, however, it is likely that most doctors were mentioning many specialists with whom they had no financial connections.

It is also possible that some doctors who got favorable mentions did so just because they are well known. They might have gotten negative mentions from other doctors if we had asked for negatives. Nonetheless, favorable mentions by a number of doctors—the more the better—are likely to be a good sign. In fact, our research has found that doctors mentioned by enough other doctors to be included on our list—

  • Did not get there by chance alone. Even the small number of mentions some of the listed physicians received from their peers would have been, for most listed specialties, very unlikely to have occurred if the physicians responding to the survey had just been randomly naming other doctors.
  • Get much higher ratings than other doctors when we survey patients.
  • Are much more likely than other doctors to be board certified.
  • Are less likely than other doctors to have disciplinary actions filed against them with state medical boards.
  • In surgical specialties for which we have good data on outcomes, have better results.

You can use our list of frequently recommended doctors in several ways—

If you have a doctor and want an independent second opinion, this list will help you find a second-opinion doctor.

  • If you are choosing a health plan (HMO or PPO), you can use this list to size up the quality of physicians in each of the competing plans’ provider directories. You will want a plan that offers you a choice of a substantial number of the listed physicians.
  • If you have a primary care doctor you trust, you will want to give substantial weight to that doctor’s referrals to other doctors, but it makes sense to discuss your doctor’s referral recommendations. You can ask the doctor about specialists on our list. The doctor might not have thought about some of the options you can suggest or might not shoot quite so high on the quality scale without your prodding.
  • Even if you have a good primary care doctor, you might find it saves you time to make your own referrals to specialists of types you know you need—an orthopedist for a broken bone or a plastic surgeon, for example—assuming your health insurance plan allows you to self-refer.
  • If your primary care doctor is guided by health plan rules or by the rules of his or her group practice to refer only to a specific specialist of each type, you can check whether the designated specialist is listed in this article. If not, and if you feel your health problem is more than just a routine case, you might want to discuss with your doctor going outside the rules to use one of the doctors listed here.
  • If you are not satisfied with a doctor your health insurance plan insists you use, you might choose a doctor from this list and be armed with this article as you argue for a special referral decision.


Note: The number of primary care physicians recommended by other doctors is limited

We have included on our Ratings Tables primary care fields—family practice, internal medicine, pediatrics, and geriatrics. Because recommendations from physicians were spread across many hundreds of physicians in these fields, a relatively small percentage received even three mentions. So our listings of physicians in these primary care fields don’t begin to include all of the many top-quality primary care doctors. Even in other specialty fields, the likelihood that a doctor will get a substantial number of mentions is affected by the number of other doctors in the same community in the same field. For example, obstetricians/gynecologists and psychiatrists are generally less likely to get a large number of mentions than are cardiac surgeons, since there are relatively few cardiac surgeons who could be mentioned and among whom the mentions we collected could be spread.