Clarity of Healthcare Roles Matters for Patients

January 22, 2024
Monica Ayre

When patients enter a hospital, it is not uncommon for them to interact with multiple healthcare providers before consulting with a physician. Distinguishing between non-physician providers and physicians can be challenging for the patient, especially as many non-physician practitioners now hold advanced degrees like a Doctor of Nursing Practice.

To ensure that patients easily navigate this evolving healthcare landscape, physicians should take proactive steps to clearly define their roles and credentials in comparison to other members of the healthcare team.

Effective Communication: Ensuring Clarity and Transparency

Healthcare teams typically consist of healthcare professionals, such as doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, pharmacists, physical therapists, care managers, etc. When non-physician providers refer to themselves as 'doctors' in line with the doctoral-level degrees they've earned, it can potentially lead to confusion and misguidance for patients and fellow practitioners.

In a survey carried out by the AMA Truth in Advertising Campaign, it's evident that confusion exists. As the findings reveal, 21% of respondents mistakenly believe that psychiatrists are not considered physicians, and 19% believe that nurse practitioners hold the title of physicians.

Patients need to understand that the expertise and experience of non-physician practitioners differ from that of physicians. Notably, 79% of patients advocate for introducing a law that ensures healthcare advertising materials clearly outline healthcare professionals' educational credentials, skills, and training when they promote their services.

The AMA House of Delegates changed the collaborative care opinion to encourage transparency in team-based healthcare, especially when non-physician practitioners are involved. It aims to improve patient care and their understanding of the healthcare team.

The updated opinion emphasizes the importance of open communication regarding professional credentials, experience, and each team member's specific role in the patient's care.

Additionally, physicians should transparently communicate and define the roles of all team members to patients and their families. Furthermore, it's crucial to recognize the patient and family as essential team members.

Nevertheless, enhanced patient care relies on teamwork and collaboration among all healthcare professionals. Therefore, physicians should foster a culture of respect, cooperation, and transparency among the entire healthcare team.

As clinical leaders, physicians should:

  • Understand team members' skills and roles in patient care.
  • Articulate responsibilities and accountability.
  • Encourage insights and teamwork skills.
  • Promote core values and continuous improvement.
  • Clarify expectations for transparent decision-making.
  • Foster open discussions of concerns and respect for patient and family roles.
  • Ensure clear descriptions of team members' roles and professions.

Clarity in healthcare roles and titles is not just a matter of terminology; it directly impacts the quality and safety of patient care. Patients have the right to know the qualifications and expertise of the professionals responsible for their well-being. This transparency fosters trust, aids informed decision-making, and improves healthcare outcomes. It is incumbent upon the healthcare system and professionals to provide this clarity to ensure that patients receive the care they deserve.

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