Who can call themselves ‘doctor’? The debate heats up


Too many ‘doctors’ confuse the public

Physicians (70%) were also more likely to say it was always or often confusing for the public to hear someone without a medical degree addressed as “doctor.” Only 6% of physicians thought it was never or rarely confusing.

Nurses disagreed. Just 45% said that it was always or often confusing while 16% said it was never or rarely confusing.

Medical students were more aligned with physicians on this issue – 60% said it was always or often confusing to the public and just 10% said it was never or rarely confusing.

One reader commented, “The problem is the confusion the ‘doctor’ title causes for patients, especially in a hospital setting. Is the ‘doctor’ a physician, a pharmacist, a psychologist, a nurse, etc., etc.? We need to think not of our own egos but if and how the confusion about this plethora of titles may be hindering good patient care.”

These concerns are not unfounded. The American Medical Association reported in its Truth in Advertising campaign that “patients mistake physicians with nonphysician providers” based on an online survey of 802 adults in 2018. The participants thought these specialists were MDs: dentists (61%), podiatrists (67%), optometrists (47%), psychologists (43%), doctors of nursing (39%), and chiropractors (27%).

The AMA has advocated that states pass the “Health Care Professional Transparency Act,” which New Jersey has enacted. The law requires all health care professionals dealing with patients to wear a name tag that clearly identifies their licensure. Health care professionals must also display their education, training, and licensure in their office.

A version of this article first appeared on Medscape.com.


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