Who's a doctor? Who isn't? Who knows?
In the March issue of the Health Care Careers e-Letter, we described the classic New Yorker cartoon that states: "On the Internet, no one knows you're a dog."
Unfortunately, when we move from the virtual world to real-life hospitals, clinics, and medical offices, lack of accurate identity among health professionals can lead to confusion among patients, or worse.
A recent AMA survey highlights this concern. It found that 44 percent of adult patients could not tell who is, and is not, a medical doctor (American Medical News). The identity crisis extends to other fields too, especially within the large and amorphous body known as "allied health."
The AMA's Truth in Advertising campaign offers model legislation and other resources for states to use to ensure that patients fully understand who's who.
We asked our readers for feedback on this issue, and received the following responses.
Recently our local hospitals requested that pharmacists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, etc. with doctorate level credentials not introduce themselves to patients as “Doctor” since this confused the patients. So this seems to be a problem at multiple levels.
How can patients not be confused? In the doctors’ offices there are no standard uniforms and name tags. In the hospital setting, the professional appearance is gone. Nurse managers wear regular street clothes. Allied health professionals wear a mix of colored scrubs. Some of the employees in environmental services take more pride in their appearance than do professional employees. Nurses and others walk around with long flowing hair that constantly gets in the way of their vision. There is no way for a patient to tell the difference between a male lab assistant and a doctor. In medical schools doctors do rounds wearing shorts in the summer.
I have suggested that doctors with staff privileges be issued a name tag. Any male looking semi-professional can walk into the hospital and access medical records and no one will ask questions!
How many “doctors” have been “practicing medicine without credentials?
So how can patients not be confused? All of us working in the health care setting have given up our professional identity!
Perhaps public awareness through the media is needed to educate the public about questions they are entitled to ask when they consult a physician for a referral or first-time visit; this could lead to a better-informed patient population.
This is another take on the “identity” situation: I do not know if this is a regional issue but during the past several months I have been seen by “Charlie” in a walk-in-clinic, by ”John” for a follow-up visit in a dermatologist’s office, and by “Mike” in an urologist’s office for testing. These were all physician assistants (PAs).
Few members of the public are familiar with the education and intense training required of the PA. The identification of this health care provider in a form usually associated with the newsboy does not engender confidence in the care being provided. A referral to a “Mr.”, ”Miss”, “Mrs.”, or “Physician Assistant” would assist in professionalizing the situation and properly relay the high level of care being provided. In short, individuals should introduce themselves and be introduced by others by title.