Key Facts and Dates for the 2021 Physician Survey | Second Opinion

The U.S. News physician survey is an annual survey of medical specialists that assesses these

The U.S. News physician survey is an annual survey of medical specialists that assesses these experts’ opinions on which hospitals are among the best at providing care for complex or challenging conditions. RTI International, which conducts the survey on behalf of U.S. News, receives and analyzes thousands of nominations each year to construct a specialty-specific expert opinion score for each hospital. The scores are combined with measures such as risk-adjusted survival to determine the Best Hospitals and Best Children’s Hospitals rankings.

This column describes key facts and dates about the upcoming 2021 physician survey. It includes information on which physicians will be surveyed via the online professional network Doximity, how non-users of that network will be surveyed, and what hospitals should do now to make sure their institution’s name is correctly reflected in the online survey materials.

Table of Contents

Key Facts

Eligibility for the survey is determined primarily by board certification; status as a user or non-user of Doximity does not affect a physician’s eligibility for the survey. U.S. News uses board certification data from Doximity’s comprehensive physician database, which includes every practicing U.S. physician as identified by National Provider Identifier (NPI) number, to determine which certifications each physician holds. About 317,000 physicians hold at least one of the specialty board certifications that qualified them as eligible for the most recent survey. Physicians whose board certification may have expired will not be excluded this year, as we recognize the pandemic may have affected recertification.

This year, we anticipate expanding eligibility for the 2021 survey to an important group of physicians: Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.’s) who are certified by the American Osteopathic Association. In prior surveys, D.O.’s — who are also known as osteopathic physicians — were eligible for the U.S. News survey only if they were certified by a member board of the American Board of Medical Specialties. That was because we did not have access to data about which specialty certifications other D.O.’s possessed. This year, we expect to have those data available to us in time to include more D.O.’s in our survey. Information on board certifications that would qualify D.O.’s as eligible for the 2021 survey will be added to the eligibility table at a later date.

From time to time, communications sent by hospital administrators to physicians suggest that only Doximity users may participate in the physician survey. This is not the case. In fact, every year RTI separately surveys two groups of eligible physicians: those who are users of Doximity; and those who are not users of Doximity. A random sample of 4,700 non-users – 150 or 200 per specialty in each of 10 pediatric and 16 adult specialties — are surveyed by mail. In addition, all survey-eligible physicians (as defined by their board certifications) who use Doximity are surveyed electronically.

Because surveyed non-users represent just a sample of the non-user population, individual responses from non-users receive more weight than individual responses from Doximity users. This is one of the weighting adjustments that ensures that each hospital’s expert opinion score is representative of the opinion of all qualified medical specialists. Because of such adjustments, hospitals are neither advantaged nor disadvantaged if a larger share of their affiliated physicians are Doximity users.

It is worth noting that some physicians have contacted U.S. News editors to complain about their employer’s heavy-handed efforts to encourage them to switch from the non-user arm of our survey to the Doximity user arm of our survey. Because of our weighting adjustments, such efforts do not affect the integrity of the U.S. News physician survey; however, they may have a deleterious effect on a hospital’s ability to engage with its physician workforce.

Key Dates

The two groups of physicians – Doximity users and non-users – will be defined based on their status as of 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time on Nov. 1, 2020. Physicians who join Doximity after Nov. 1 will be treated as non-users in the 2021 survey.

As in past years, a random sample of non-users will be surveyed by mail beginning in early January 2021. Doximity users will be surveyed online via a Doximity-hosted survey instrument from late February through March 2021. After the survey begins, an announcement about the Doximity arm of the 2021 survey may be released in this column. It has not been our practice to announce the start date of the survey prior to its release or announce the end date prior to its closeout. This year, too, dates will not be shared in advance by phone or email, so there is no need to contact U.S. News, RTI or Doximity personnel regarding this question. Please note that, as in past years, physicians will be invited by email when the online survey is accessible to them. They will be notified in waves over a multi-day period, not all simultaneously.

All physicians, including those who are already Doximity users, are encouraged prior to Nov. 1 to check their U.S. News profile at and sign into Doximity to confirm that their board certification information is complete and correct; information can be updated by logging into Doximity. Physicians should refer to the Doximity specialties page to ensure that their Doximity profile correctly matches the stated eligibility for their specialty or subspecialty. Certain physicians may wonder whether hospital administrators can determine who nominated them and who did not. The survey teams at U.S. News, RTI, and Doximity will NOT disclose any physician’s survey response to their employer or anyone else.

Hospital administrators are advised that the name that will be used for a hospital in the Doximity survey materials – specifically, the hospital name that will appear among a list of potential matches when surveyed physicians begin to type the name of a hospital they wish to nominate – will be the name that appears on that hospital’s profile as of Jan. 8, 2021. If you are unsure whether this name is correct for a hospital where you are an administrator, please locate the hospital’s profile on and make sure the name that appears at the top of the page is current. If it is out of date, log into the Best Hospitals Dashboard (or have your hospital’s Dashboard editor do so), and submit a name-change request under the “My Hospital” tab no later than Jan. 8, 2021. In the meantime, you can check this column for any updates to the 2021 physician survey process.

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