Editor's Note:These lists are excerpted
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For the complete list of the Top Docs, pick up the August 2002 issue of Cleveland Magazine. Buy it today.
When you're feeling maudlin about matters of the heart, you typically confide
in a friend. If you're curious about a minor medical concern, you show your
family doctor where it hurts. But where do you turn when health issues loom
larger, obliging the expertise of a specialist?
Not too long ago, it was relatively easy to find a good doctor. That trusted family physician provided a referral or you turned to that close confidant. Today, with advances in medical technology and requirements from insurers, picking the right doctor may cause some common symptoms: dry mouth, loss of appetite and sight-of-blood queasiness.
But relax, the condition is treatable. The best first step in finding a good doctor is to begin with a reliable source. And who would know more about doctors than other doctors?
So this month, Cleveland Magazine presents the Northeast Ohio doctors recognized by their peers as "The Best Doctors in America" via Best Doctors Inc. These physicians were selected by other doctors as the ones they'd recommend to a friend or loved one who needed an oncologist, ophthalmologist, orthopedist or other specialist.
Best Doctors Inc. conducts an exhaustive, annual, peer review-based evaluation of the medical profession by polling about 30,000 doctors who have been identified in previous surveys as "the best" in their specialties. Only about 4 percent of U.S. doctors in the United States and a bit more than 400 doctors from Northeast Ohio made the final list.
It's important to note that while these selections are in many respects an all-star list, not all of our area's first-rate physicians are included in this guide. Some physician subspecialties are so narrow they aren't singled out in a more general context. Many who practice in and even direct hospital departments aren't known through typical referral networks. Some shining-star younger physicians haven't practiced long enough to become well known. And group-practice physicians are sometimes considered collectively — often, only one doctor in their practice makes the list.
"Our metropolitan area is blessed with many very well-qualified doctors, many more than can be represented in this magazine," says Dr. Keith Armitage, associate professor of medicine and vice chairman of education in the department of internal medicine at Case Western Reserve University.
While the practitioners included here are revered by their colleagues, this list doesn't guarantee patient satisfaction. "It's important to choose someone you ‘click' with, feel comfortable with and can communicate with, making sure you both understand each other," Armitage stresses.
Just as consumers must use good judgment in their buying decisions, Armitage encourages patients to ask about a doctor's background, board certifications and procedural experience. And when it comes to treatment, ask about available options and associated risks.
"When you're seeing a doctor for the first time, bring a list of your health
concerns. After the visit, reflect on how the doctor addressed those issues,"
Armitage says. "If the communication between patient and doctor isn't good,
then you're better off seeing someone else."
Eric Jeffrey Topol
The Cleveland Clinic
Thanks to Dr. Eric Jeffrey Topol, new life-saving remedies for premature heart attacks may be just a heartbeat away.
As chairman of The Cleveland Clinic's department of molecular cardiology at the Lerner Research Institute, Topol led a research team that discovered three genes in the Thrombospondin family of proteins that are connected to premature heart disease. These proteins govern a number of factors associated with heart disease: new blood-vessel growth; blood clotting; blood-vessel response to oxidized, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL); and arteries' ability to protect themselves from internal weakness.
"No one ever suspected these genes were linked to heart disease, and because of this finding, we can now intervene at birth or early childhood to prevent heart attacks from occurring that otherwise would have," explains Topol, whose conclusions appeared in the October issue of Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association.
A graduate of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, Topol received internal-medicine training at the University of California, San Francisco. After a fellowship in the division of cardiology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, he rose from professor to director of the cardiac catheterization laboratory at University of Michigan School of Medicine. Since 1991, Topol, a Chagrin Falls resident, has provided stewardship for The Cleveland Clinic's cardiology department, ranked No. 1 by U.S. News & World Report.
Topol, 48, has chaired clinical trials spanning 45 countries and more than 150,000 patients. He has also authored and co-authored 15 books on cardiovascular diseases.
"Now that we've linked to specific diseases that these abnormal genes induce, our work will lead to specific drugs and prescribed lifestyle changes for people with these particular abnormal genes," he says.
Just as the world has embraced the value of the Internet, adds Topol, people
must grasp the magnitude of a healthy diet and regular exercise to ward off
premature heart attack, even if they're genetically predisposed to the disease.
Michael W. Konstan and Pamela B. Davis
Pediatric Pulmonary Physicians and Researchers
Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital
If Dr. Michael Konstan had followed in his father's footsteps, he'd be a dentist
instead of the lung specialist leading the charge to battle a deadly genetic
Konstan flashes back to the mid-'70s, when, as an undergrad at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, he volunteered in the cystic fibrosis wards at Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital. "Back then, the majority of patients died from CF as children, and my experience of working with them made me want to help them fight this horrible disease," says Konstan, 46. "My wish came true."
Today, Konstan is director of the LeRoy Matthews Cystic Fibrosis Center at Rainbow, and associate professor of pediatrics at CWRU. In a current clinical trial for a novel "gene-transfer system" to battle CF, he's leading a team comprising specialists from CWRU, Rainbow, the Research Institute of University Hospitals of Cleveland and Copernicus Therapeutics Inc., the Cleveland-based biotechnology firm that developed the revolutionary gene-transfer system.
"In the past, gene-therapy studies for CF have used modified viruses to deliver a healthy CF gene into the airways of CF patients, but in that approach, the viruses have caused inflammation in the CF lung," Konstan explains. "This approach is novel because it so tightly compacts DNA strands, it can pass into the cell's nucleus without a virus."
Once inside, adds Konstan, it's hoped the DNA will produce the normal version of the protein that CF patients need. "These patients are truly a joy to care for, and it's most disturbing seeing a young child die from this disease," he says.
Crediting colleagues involved in the current study, Konstan says the trial is based on the initial discoveries of Drs. Pamela B. Davis and Jose C. Perales, the latter a CWRU alumnus. Davis, a pediatrics professor at Rainbow and CWRU, specializes in lung disease in both children and adults. Intrigued by her research, Konstan originally worked in her laboratory during his fellowship at Rainbow and CWRU, where he also attended undergraduate and medical school before completing his residency at Children's Hospital of Buffalo, N.Y.
"I owe much of my success to her because she gave me the opportunity to work with her on the ibuprofen project — and the rest is history," he says, referring to the study in which they demonstrated that high doses of ibuprofen or Advil, taken regularly over time, markedly slowed lung deterioration in CF patients.
"That was the most satisfying study I've done, because it has a very substantial effect on the disease and stands to benefit a lot of patients," says Davis, a resident of Cleveland Heights. "But this current clinical trial is the best science I've ever done."
Konstan and Davis share the same goal: providing their patients with the best care and treatment available, while simultaneously trying to find a cure for the disease.
"We're both careful investigators, wanting to do the best experiments possible," says Davis, who also directs the Willard A. Bernbaum Cystic Fibrosis Research Center at Rainbow. "And being intellectually honest, we don't kid ourselves, because that's bad for the patient."
And if not for the patients, says Konstan, there would be no progress.
"I'm amazed by the courage and determination even the youngest patients show
in their battle against the disease," observes Konstan, an Akron native who
now lives in Bratenahl. "Some of them know they won't directly benefit from
participating in the clinical trials, but they do so, hoping that others who
come after them will."
Barbara A. Cromer
MetroHealth Medical Center
A self-described "worrier," Dr. Barbara Cromer says her concern for patients is "a good thing."
"I've been practicing adolescent medicine for 20 years, but I still worry about missing something in any case where I'm not absolutely sure what's going on," says Cromer, 52. "I hope I never lose that, because it's one of the things that makes me a good doctor."
Balancing a clipboard, a laptop and a crate of patient file folders, Cromer enthusiastically juggles her responsibilities at MetroHealth Medical Center's department of pediatrics.
As director of the division of adolescent medicine since 1999, Cromer fosters a nationally recognized academic program in adolescent health. Simultaneously, she supervises a multidisciplinary clinical team that delivers comprehensive care to adolescents with complex medical and psychosocial problems.
Currently, Cromer's working on a study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, of oral and injectable hormonal contraception in more than 400 adolescents. The project compares two hormone therapies to the effects of no hormonal treatment at all, to determine if current hormonal contraceptives provide adolescents a sufficient level of bone-mineral density to ward off future osteoporosis.
"I think the study may be a breakthrough, considering sex-hormone treatment has traditionally focused on slowing bone loss after menopausal women lose their natural source of sex hormones," Cromer says. "The crux is, we also need to focus on estrogen levels necessary for optimal bone environment in a growing adolescent."
After earning her undergraduate degree at Ohio Wesleyan University, Cromer attended medical school at The Ohio State University and completed her pediatrics residency at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, making rotations at both MetroHealth and Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital. After her fellowship in adolescent medicine at Baltimore's University of Maryland Hospital, Cromer spent 15 years in academic roles at Columbus Children's Hospital before returning to Cleveland.
In addition to her endeavors at MetroHealth, Cromer, a Lakewood resident,
has served as director of the Center for Adolescent Health at CWRU since 2000.
Next month, she becomes the first recipient of the Fred C. Robbins chair in
child and adolescent health.
Western Reserve Medical Center
If you had a triple bypass operation tomorrow, your health-insurance provider would likely cover about 80 percent of your hospital bills. If, however, you were being treated for severe bipolar disorder, it would be up to you to pick up about half the tab. Dr. Melodie Morgan-Minott doesn't think that's right — and she's doing something about it.
While president of the Ohio Psychiatric Association in 1994, Morgan-Minott championed grass-roots efforts on behalf of patients and psychiatrists, lobbying legislators to vote for parity in mental health insurance benefits.
"That's still my mission," she says. "Sigmund Freud said we'd one day find biological explanations for many psychiatric conditions, and we have. I hope we don't have to wait another lifetime for these same conditions to receive equality in health-insurance coverage."
Board certified in psychiatry and geriatric psychiatry, Morgan-Minott, 59, helps adults and seniors with mood disorders such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and aging issues. Originally practicing in Akron's Merriman Valley for nine years, in 1990, Morgan-Minott was named medical director for the Center for Mental Health at Robinson Memorial Hospital in Ravenna, where she helped launch a new mental-health unit. For a shorter commute, she relocated to the Kent Medical Arts Building in 1993. Returning to private practice in 2001, she currently sees outpatients at Western Reserve Medical Center in Kent while residing in Aurora.
An obvious overachiever, Morgan-Minott had big shoes to fill as the daughter of Dolores Parker Morgan, a singer in Duke Ellington's band, and stepdaughter of the first African-American surgeon to practice medicine in Akron.
"First, I was a registered nurse at Harlem Hospital in New York City, where I developed an interest in mental-health issues," she recalls. "Being a nurse helped me understand how patients perceive their doctors, and the broad base of experience I've had helps me better relate to my patients as a psychiatrist."
At 33, Morgan-Minott entered New York Medical College in Valhalla, N.Y., then
completed her residency in psychiatry at Akron General Medical Center. In 1997,
she was named a Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, an honor awarded
to physicians who meet rigid criteria for excellence.
Thomas J. Tsai
Ohio Retina Associates
Thomas Tsai wants the best care possible for his patients. That's why he'd
like to see some of his patients be a bit more, well, patient.
Practicing a subspecialty of ophthalmology that includes diseases and surgery of the retina and vitreous humor, Tsai conducts about 50 retina consultations every day with patients referred to him by other eye specialists. Each week, he performs some two dozen surgeries — from routine laser surgery for diabetic and macular degeneration to major surgery for various retinal disorders. Occasionally, Tsai must perform emergency surgeries that throw him off schedule.
"I try to be empathetic to the needs of my patients, but I also have to be there for patients who must be seen immediately," notes Tsai, 49.
While his internist father had some influence on Tsai's desire to practice medicine, he settled on ophthalmology after earning his medical degree from the University of Cincinnati and then completing a medical internship at Jewish Hospital in Cincinnati. An eye residency at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Dallas and a fellowship in retina diseases at Harvard Medical School's Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary were the foundations for a career he says is fascinating.
"I've been doing this for 19 years, but I never cease to be amazed by the continual changes and advances in medicine, technology and instrumentation," says Tsai, a Ravenna native who now lives in Medina.
After a decade in solo practice, in 1994, Tsai joined with other physicians
to form Ohio Retina Associates Inc. He also serves on the teaching staff of
the department of ophthalmology at Summa Health System. While the Akron practice
has since expanded to include five major facilities and three satellite offices
across Northeast Ohio, one thing has remained the same: "I think patients just
want to be treated with honesty, integrity and respect, and that's what I try
to do," Tsai says. "When you're able to do something that makes a positive difference
in someone's life and you're actually appreciated for it, that makes it all
University Hospitals of Cleveland
Practicing medicine has always been about family for Dr. Jason Chao. With physician parents, it's not surprising that he took up family medicine.
At the department of family medicine at University Hospitals of Cleveland, Chao spends 40 percent of his time treating patients — from fitting a boisterous 10-year-old with an arm cast to freezing a college basketball player's plantar wart to removing a suspicious mole from an adult sun worshiper. His remaining schedule is split as an instructor, medical- education researcher and academic administrator at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, where he joined the faculty in 1984.
"I enjoy the variety in family practice," says Chao, "but I'm equally interested in teaching and researching."
In July, Chao launched a two-month, federally funded study in which medical students will use personal digital assistants in ambulatory-, internal- and family-medicine rotations. "Typically, students use laptops in their rounds to see patients, but those are so cumbersome," says Chao, 47. "This study will determine the usefulness of PDAs preprogrammed with medical applications to record and access information."
There weren't such shortcuts when Chao pursued a six-year medical-education honors program at Northwestern University. Completing his residency at the University of Iowa, he followed with a two-year fellowship at CWRU. Born and raised in Chicago, Chao now resides in Cleveland Heights.
Described by colleagues as intelligent, curious and compassionate, Chao's sensitivity to current therapies and liberal doses of caring make him "the good doctor." Having delivered babies until 1999, Chao says he's honored to be involved in the intimate facets of patients' lives.
"The most important aspect of a doctor-patient relationship is trust, and
that's gained by listening to the patient's concerns," says Chao, who's also
president of the Northeast Ohio chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
"Listening to their experiences can also reveal what's happening from a medical
standpoint. You just have to spend the time and show you care."