Blog | Thursday, September 26, 2013

Don't call me a health care provider - I'm a doctor

One thing doctors like to do is to use fancy language. Patients, however, want physicians to use simple terms. Perhaps, using highfalutin language makes physicians feel more scholarly and important. Of course, this bombast only confuses patients who may be too timid to respond that they don’t have a clue what we’re saying. If your doctor is speaking in tongues, then ask for a translator. He’ll get the message.

Many professions have their own technical languages that are necessary for internal communications or scholarly work. Beyond this, there is also a pomposity that drives this lexical elitism.

In the medical profession, medical terms seem to offer no advantage over colloquial alternatives. Yet, physicians want to “speak like doctors,” whatever that means.

Cool medical term: Lame alternative
Thrombus: Clot
Stenosis: Narrowing
Cephalalgia: Headache
Transient Ischemic Attack: Mini-stroke
Nevus: Mole
Exanthem: Rash
Cholelithiasis: Gallstones
Pyrosis: Heartburn
Epistaxis: Nosebleed

Folks following health care reform need their own glossary to explain the new lexicon. I can’t keep this stuff straight and I’m in the business. One must be familiar with pay-for-performance, comparative effectiveness research, accountable care organizations, insurance exchanges, medical homes, pharmacy benefit managers and value-based pricing. See how warm and fuzzy the medical profession has become?

Here are a few antiquated terms that are rarely included in the medical policy and health care reform articles I peruse:
• compassion
• healing
• empathy
• caring

The new medical rhetoric is so sanitized, or should I say antiseptic, that it threatens to anesthetize the profession. Want proof? Look at how medical apparatchiks describe me. I’m no longer a doctor or a physician. I’m now a health care provider.

I’m not hung up on the doctor title. I never introduce myself as ‘Dr.’, even to my patients. But, to regard me as a health care provider attempts to redefine who I am and what I try to do. It aims to circumvent the core of what doctoring should be, which is humanity. While health care reformers can redact the term humanity, they can’t extract true humanity that must be the essence of the profession. If we accept that we are health care providers, then we’re not doctors anymore. When the government health care reformers and its minions are speaking in tongues, let’s demand a translator.

This post by Michael Kirsch, MD, FACP, appeared at MD Whistleblower. Dr. Kirsch is a full time practicing physician and writer who addresses the joys and challenges of medical practice, including controversies in the doctor-patient relationship, medical ethics and measuring medical quality. When he's not writing, he's performing colonoscopies.