The case for stripping the word 'provider' from the healthcare lexicon: 5 things to know

In a recent opinion piece published in JAMA, Allan Goroll, MD, internal medicine specialist with Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, makes a case for the extraction of the nonspecific designation of "provider" from the medical nomenclature.

Here are five things to know about Dr. Goroll's case against the term "provider."

1. According to Dr. Goroll, the word can hinder the patient's ability to assemble the best primary care team because it makes practitioners seem interchangeable. "The term obscures their differences in depth and breadth of training, knowledge and clinical experience as well as the particular and often unique contributions they make to a team-based effort," he writes.

2. Dr. Goroll asserts the lack of distinction in the vague term creates the potential for a physician to be placed in a situation that tasks their expertise and clinical competence beyond their medical training.

3. He also argues the use of the word could be facilitating low levels of compensation and diminished respect for the field. He writes, "Using the 'provider' designation in primary care also suggests that primary care is simple care...note that designation of 'provider' has not been applied to such fields as surgery or cardiology."

4. The transition from a solo-physician primary care model to a multidisciplinary team effort requires a change in the language we use to categorize care. "The language used to identify, train, organize and compensate should reflect specific roles and responsibilities and not obfuscate or denigrate them. This argues for nothing more complicated than returning to use of 'doctor (or physician), 'nurse practitioner' and 'physician assistant' as the preferred terms for the principal professional members of the primary care team," argues Dr. Goroll.

5. Ultimately, the growing demands on primary care professionals should be reflected and respected in the language used to describe them. "It is time to cease referring to and treating primary care clinicians (as well as all other physicians and healthcare practitioners) as 'providers' and address and relate to them as the highly trained professionals they are," writes Dr. Goroll.

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