Clear Fix For Health Care’s Whirlwind Of Confusion

It’s a perfect storm, forming a whirlwind of confusion throughout the health care sector. And we may only have until mid-June to avoid the tempest.

Unprecedented pressures attempting to drive down costs and push patients away from physicians … a shortage of doctors sometimes forcing care to the less trained … a surge in the number of nurses and allied health professionals earning their doctoral degrees. All these factors have combined to cause significant patient confusion about the alphabet soup of health care designations and about who actually is providing their care. Consumers are dazed and confused.

Americans, according to several studies, are crystal clear that physicians’ years of medical education and training are vital to optimal patient care, particularly in the event of an emergency. And while nurses and other allied health professionals are vital to the health care continuum and help ensure optimal care, the vast majority of those polled believe they should serve in a role that supports doctors’ efforts.

A recent American Medical Association (AMA) survey determined many patients are uncertain or even confused about the title and education level of individuals who are actively engaged in providing their medical care. As an example, 44 percent of AMA survey respondents indicate they’ve had difficulty identifying a licensed Medical Doctor (MD) based solely on marketing materials. Further, nearly 7 in 10 incorrectly believe a podiatrist is a medical doctor, while more than half think optometrists and psychologists are medical doctors.

The confusion is exacerbated in underserved communities. Recent immigrants and others who may not speak English, or who speak it as a secondary language, are particularly vulnerable to misunderstandings about who has what type of training.

It’s easy to imagine the fog of confusion rolling in as a white coat-clad healthcare provider, maybe in surgical scrubs with a stethoscope draped over the shoulder, and wearing no identification, enters the examining room and uses the designation “doctor.” Now, more than ever, it’s entirely likely this individual is neither an MD nor a Doctor of Osteopathy (DO), but a Ph.D. – or something else entirely.

This past week, New York doctors – represented by the Medical Society of The State of New York (MSSNY), The New York Society of Anesthesiologists, American College of Physicians, New York State Society of Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery, New York Academy of Family Physicians, New York Chapter of the American College of Surgeons and the New York State Psychiatric Association – urged Albany legislators to help make it clear, supporting state-level legislation requiring all health care providers to prominently display and identify their specific credentials.

Senate bill S5493 – and its Assembly companion, A7889 – would clarify in statute a requirement that anyone providing health care services clearly display in their office a document indicating the type of license they hold. It also would require the wearing of informational badges with large bold lettering that specifies name and type of license held by the practitioner. The emphasis would be on enabling patients to more quickly, easily determine whether someone is an M.D., a D.O., a Ph.D., or has completed a doctoral degree program in a health profession.

Unfortunately, New York’s legislative session is drawing to a mid-June close, so the fix consumers deserve could be put off for another year.

MSSNY strongly supports what’s being referred to as “Truth in Advertising” legislation, because it will provide patients with specific information they need and deserve.

The legislation will cover face-to-face encounters, as well as advertising, marketing and communications materials. When someone is making crucial medical decisions, it’s vital there’s no ambiguity, and that they understand the level of expertise of everyone they consult with.

I recently was asked, “Who’s actually opposed to this legislation?”

The answer is simple – anyone who benefits from confused consumers and profits by not making it clear. And unfortunately, there are many.

Dr. Andrew Kleinman is president of the Medical Society of The Sta