Our 2012 Top Doctors

A physician-led research team identifies the desert’s 78 top doctors in 37 specialties

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When looking for the right doctor, a recommendation from a trusted friend goes a long way. To that end, Palm Springs Life has partnered with New York-based Castle Connolly Medical Ltd. to independently survey the Greater Palm Springs area and reveal the crème de la crème.

Castle Connolly Medical Ltd. is a healthcare research and information company founded in 1991 by a former medical college board chairman and president to help guide consumers to America’s top doctors and top hospitals. Castle Connolly’s established survey and research process, under the direction of a medical doctor, involves tens of thousands of top doctors and the medical leadership of leading hospitals.

Castle Connolly expanded its nominations process in late June 2011 and now invites all licensed physicians to participate in the nomination process to identify regionally and nationally outstanding top doctors.  The nominations process can be accessed online at www.castleconnolly.com/nominations

The firm’s physician-led team of researchers follows a rigorous screening process of nominated physicians to select top doctors at national and regional levels. Careful screening of doctors’ educational and professional experience is essential before final selection is made among those physicians most highly regarded by their peers. The result: Castle Connolly identifies the top doctors in America and provides you with detailed information about their education, training, and special expertise in this feature, as well as in paperback guides and online.

Physicians selected for this feature may also appear as regional top doctors at www.castleconnolly.com or in one of Castle Connolly’s guidebooks, such as America’s Top Doctors or America’s Top Doctors for Cancer.

Doctors do not and cannot pay to be selected and profiled as Castle Connolly Top Doctors. When looking for the right doctor, a recommendation from a trusted friend goes a long way. To that end, Palm Springs Life has partnered with New York-based Castle Connolly Medical Ltd. to independently survey the Greater Palm Springs area and reveal the crème de la crème.


Palm Springs Life's 2012 Top Doctor Videos

Clifford Brown, M.D.

Diabetic eye disease, cataract surgery, macular degeneration
Elber S. Camacho, M.D.

Leukemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma
David W. Duffner, M.D.

Spinal surgery, joint replacement, reconstructive surgery, arthritis
Ihor Galarnyk, M.D.

Addiction Psychiatry
Ernest Han, M.D./Ph.D.

Gynecologic cancer, robotic surgery
Blythe M. Kato, M.D.

Head and neck surgery, head and neck cancer, skull base surgery
Shubha J. Kerkar, M.D.

AIDS/HIV, infections in cancer patients, infections in prosthetic devices, tuberculosis
Mark V. Sofonio, M.D.

Cosmetic face and body surgery, laser surgery, liposuction, breast surgery
Bryan L. Stone, M.D.

Ziad A. Tannous, M.D.

Critical care, lung disease, airway disorders
Michael Weinstein, M.D. 
Brain injury rehabilitation, stroke rehabilitation, neuro-rehabilitation

Presenting Sponsor:

Top Doctor Converstations:

Breaking the Sound of Silence

Kleenex boxes fill Dr. Blythe Kato’s office.

“It’s a very emotional event for the patient and their family when someone hears for the first time,” says the otology and neurotology specialist. “A patient hears their spouse’s voice for the first time in 30 years. Then they go down to the car and their spouse opens the door with the modern beep-beep that they’ve never heard before. Then they go home and hear a salt shaker or the sound of aluminum foil opening.”

Kato points to great advances in the technology of cochlear implant surgery over the years as one of the main reasons hearing can be restored. “It’s essentially like a bionic ear that we implant into people who have lost their hearing and also in children who are born deaf. … It’s remarkable, life-changing surgery. It’s one of the most gratifying things I can do for a patient.”

Beyond cochlear implant surgery, Kato points to new and improved technologies like semi-implantable and fully implantable devices — essentially, invisible hearing aids. Even the advent of electronic medical recordkeeping has helped her be closer to her patients. “My electronic medical record is cloud-based, so I can be on a vacation in Hawaii and, if a patient calls my office with a question, I can just look up their chart from my hotel.”

Kato believes in the art of communication, as well as the art of medicine. “I always sit down after I enter the room, and I try to give the patient some time just to talk. … Patients will get better with counseling, often. There’s a bit of science and a bit of just being a human.” 

Helping Brain-Injured Patients Recover

No matter how difficult his day, Dr. Michael Weinstein realizes how lucky he is and how he might be able to better affect his patients’ recoveries and their lives.

“I constantly learn from my patients on a daily basis,” says the psychiatrist specializing in stroke and brain injury rehabilitation. “An adult’s first steps after being chair-bound are very exciting. Or working with a performing artist who can pick up their instrument again and start playing incredible music. Moments like that are so gratifying and so exciting, and they never end.”

Last July, Weinstein helped open Eisenhower Medical Center’s 23-bed, state-of-the-art Inpatient Rehabilitation Center, the first of its kind in the Coachella Valley. Previously the medical director of neurological rehabilitation services at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, Wash., he dreamed of living in the Palm Springs area. The post in Rancho Mirage presented him with an opportunity to be in the early developmental stages of “creating and providing a set of services that the region greatly needed,” he says.

Watching each of his patient’s progress is what keeps Weinstein going.

“Most of the patients we work with have had catastrophic health issues — stroke, brain injury, spinal injury,” he says. “To be able to help them transition from a disaster to a high quality of life is tremendously gratifying.”

Satisfied in Seeing Results

Dr. Clifford Brown recalls a man led into his office by his girlfriend because cataracts had limited his vision.

“His girlfriend was very diligent taking care of him, but some of the things you do for yourself other people don’t do as well,” says the ophthalmologist. “I took his cataracts out and, when I saw him six months later, his hair was cut, his beard was gone, and he was a pro fisherman doing quite well for himself.”

Brown spends a patient’s first visit exploring what is bothering them. “I think what I may do better than most people is give them a way of understanding the disease process,” he says. “Usually, my first question is, ‘How long have you been in the desert, and where are you coming from?’ It’s the level of comfort I try to get with myself and with the patient.”

A big football fan, Brown says that if he weren’t an eye doctor, he probably would be a football coach. But choosing a medical profession seemed to be a natural fit for him.

“When I was a kid, I wanted to be a doctor. My dad was an allergist, and he shared an office with an ophthalmologist,” Brown says. “My dad was the first one in his family to go to medical school, and then my cousin went, then my cousin’s son, then my sister and my brother’s wife. So it seems to be in the family tree.”  

And he says he wouldn’t trade in the satisfaction of his life as a doctor for anything.

“We doctors have been through quite a bit to get to where we are. It’s not just the money for us.”

Known Less by Patients Than Families

Dealing with the sickest group of patients at Desert Regional Medical Center means Dr. Ziad Tannous also deals with the emotions of their families and friends.

You always have to update them and keep them informed. That’s a big part of my day,” says the specialist in pulmonary disease and respiratory disorders who works in the Intensive Care Unit.

As for the patients themselves, they often don’t even know he exists.

“The patients are typically unconscious or on medications and so forth. Once they get better and well and leave, I’ll sometimes get phone calls: ‘Did you take care of me?’ It’s something that makes me laugh, but I feel good about it.” Being on the front lines of intensive care means that Tannous often deals with patients who are uninsured and who come to the emergency room as a last resort.

“What I would wish to see in the new healthcare reform is to basically have everyone insured if possible and not to let the health plans [of insured patients] tell me what to do. If I’m a physician trying to take care of somebody, I don’t want a health plan telling me this test is allowed and this test is not and this medication is allowed and this one is not. I think the way it is right now is very deficient and inefficient.”

Spanning the Ages, Following the Rules

As a psychiatrist specializing in addiction psychiatry, geriatric psychiatry, and child and adolescent psychiatry, Dr. Ihor Galarnyck works “across the life span.”

“If you look at the history of a mental illness, at least 50 percent of the time, it’s there by the age of 15. In the case of addiction, about 80 to 90 percent of the time, it’s there by age 18 or 19.”

Regardless of age, he says, “I think it helps people to be able to see themselves as growing and developing, as opposed to someone who is stuck with a concrete issue.”

Galarnyck finds the nature of his work infinitely meaningful and is impressed by his patients. “There are a lot of problems out there. But there is a small percentage of people, I think, who have some unique qualities in awareness, insight, enthusiasm, initiative, courage, curiosity, and intelligence to seek out doctors. … So I see the best people in the world. I’m just unbelievably lucky that way.”

Galarnyk abides by what he considers three rules for psychiatry: “The first is honesty, because the more honest you are the more likely you are to figure out and fix things. The second rule is respect and privacy, which means I don’t tell anybody else anything. The third rule is safety: Doctors are supposed to help you, not hurt you, by what they say or don’t say, do or don’t do. If you can do those three rules well, most people are pretty good at figuring out and fixing things.” 

The Art of Cosmetic Perfection

Dr. Mark Sofonio describes his field of cosmetic surgery as one of the fastest-evolving areas in all of medicine.

“There is a plethora of new treatments that are all noninvasive and nonoperative,” he says. “Most recently, high-frequency focused ultrasound gained FDA approval for tightening tissue and melting fat. A new photon machine just came out that will now superficially treat skin cancers without a lot of disfiguring surgery.”

Regardless of new technologies, human nature tends to stay the same, and Dr. Sofonio also finds this aspect of his work a fruitful challenge.

“When a new patient comes in, probably the most important piece of advice I can give to them is to be realistic and understand that aging is a natural process. We cannot reverse it. We can improve your appearance at the present time to look much younger, but you are going to continue to age. And I think it’s important for patients to understand that and accept that and to understand that if you’re 65, you cannot look 20 again.”

Beyond that, Sofonio says, one of the most important aspects of his job is listening to his patients.

“For some reason, in medical school, I don’t know if we got that. Now as I am on my own and have been practicing for almost 20 years, one of the things I have learned is that you really have to listen to the patient. Be quiet, ask them a question, and let them speak, and they will tell you what their concerns are and what their needs are.”

Sofonio enjoys the “artistic side” of cosmetic surgery.

“It allows me to really be a perfectionist,” he says. “You see the results immediately on the table. That for me is very fulfilling, that emotional challenge that I get with every case. … You really want everything to be a home run; second best really isn’t good enough.”

A Positive Approach to Healing

As a specialist in gynecologic oncology, Dr. Ernest Han sees himself as both healer and scientist.

“You learn a lot about the science in medical school. You learn about the molecules and the drugs, but the one thing that they don’t teach you is about that human or emotional factor. It’s not just the patients, but also the family; it’s everyone involved.”

His patients who go through the long journey of surgery and chemotherapy impress him.

“I always feel privileged that I can meet these people and get a glimpse of their lives and know who these people are. And I think that’s a very special thing,” he says. “I know we try to focus a lot on their actual medical care, but I think that there’s a person behind every patient that you see.”

Han laments how modern healthcare oftentimes takes the focus away from the patients themselves.

“Unfortunately, I think that healthcare is shutting down in some ways, because [doctors] have to spend a lot of time with other things, and our patient time is being shortened. But I very much enjoy the human aspect of operating, talking to patients. I think for us doctors, it’s a very important aspect.”

New technology in the form of robotic surgical assists gives Han hope for less-invasive operations with easier recovery, but he still concentrates on the mental and emotional aspects of healing. “The major thing that I can say to patients is to keep positive and try to stay as active as possible. I think there are definitely a lot of emotional aspects to the whole process. Family support is very, very important, as well as having other patients’ experiences and knowing what to expect. I can’t imagine someone going through this. It’s very difficult, so we try to be as positive and as encouraging as possible.”


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