Keep 'doctor' title for physicians only, AMA and CMA urge

The long-standing debate on non-physicians using the term "doctor" is being highlighted in California after two advocacy organizations filed a court document in connection with a current case where nurse practitioners want to be referred to as doctors.

The California Medical Association and the American Medical Association filed a court brief in support of California's long-standing law that prohibits the use of the term "doctor" or "Dr." by anyone other than qualified physicians. They did so in reference to a current case where three nurse practitioners with doctorates are suing so they can use the terms.

The brief cited research suggesting that nurse practitioner approaches to patient care can provide very different outcomes for patients compared with physicians. Excessive opioid and antibiotic prescriptions by nurse practitioners are one example, the CMA and AMA say.

In addition, who and who is not really a physician can confuse patients.

"The potential for confusion is especially heightened when non-physician healthcare professionals use terms that are customarily understood to refer to a physician, including 'doctor' or ‘Dr.'," said AMA President Jesse Ehrenfeld, MD.

On the other side, advanced practice providers argue certain studies have shown they produce similar outcomes to physicians, and that they can fill critical gaps in care for underserved areas.

The debate has taken on more currency recently, according to recent Becker's coverage, as physician shortages continue, with 27 states now allowing nurse practitioners to practice without physician supervision.

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