Blog | Monday, December 28, 2015

An open letter to the American Medical Association and all state medical boards to stop using the word 'provider'

Dear Organization:

The last few years have been a period of unprecedented change in the world of healthcare. The need to rein in costs, expand access, and ensure higher quality care—all at a time of rapid medical and technological advancements—has changed innumerable aspects of the practice of medicine.

Throughout this, 1 common theme has been the dedication and determination of hundreds of thousands of physicians across the United States, who on a daily basis work tirelessly for their patients. These physicians are among the most highly educated and trained professionals in the country, the majority having accumulated a substantial debt burden to become practicing physicians. At a time when most fellow professionals are starting families, buying homes, and getting settled in life, would-be physicians are still in education, sitting exam after exam to fulfill their dreams.

It is therefore a concern that another big paradigm shift in health care has been a push to no longer address physicians by their true job title, but by the word “provider” instead. This has occurred at all levels of administrative and electronic communication, and is now also being used with patients.

The word doctor is over 2000 years old, aptly derived from the Latin doctus, meaning to teach or instruct. Physician was used traditionally to describe a medical doctor, and King Henry VIII granted the first charter to form the Royal College of Physicians in 1518. In almost every country in the world, a medical doctor is considered to be among the most noble and prestigious professions, the title only conferred after 1 of the most rigorous university courses in existence. It is a privilege and honor to be 1.

Today, there are many different professionals caring for patients at the frontlines of medicine. More and more non-physicians who possess a doctorate degree are using the word “Doctor” which the public understands to be a Doctor of Medicine. While many possessing doctorate degrees may legitimately refer to themselves as Doctors, only Doctors of Medicine can legitimately refer to themselves as physicians. So let us further and appropriately begin to distinguish Doctors of Medicine as physicians.

The word “provider” is a non-specific and non-descript term that confers little meaning. We therefore call on the American Medical Association and all state medical boards to consider discouraging and terminating the use of the word “provider” in all administrative communication, in place of “physician” when addressing a medical doctor. If a more generic term is necessary, consideration to the term “clinician” should be given. We believe that this affords the courtesy and respect that is due to a hard-working and dedicated profession.


Dr. Suneel Dhand
Attending Physician, Internal Medicine
Boston, MA

William J. Carbone, CEO
American Board of Physician Specialties
Tampa, FL

Suneel Dhand, MD, ACP Member, is a practicing physician in Massachusetts. He has published numerous articles in clinical medicine, covering a wide range of specialty areas including; pulmonology, cardiology, endocrinology, hematology, and infectious disease. He has also authored chapters in the prestigious "5-Minute Clinical Consult" medical textbook. His other clinical interests include quality improvement, hospital safety, hospital utilization, and the use of technology in health care. This post originally appeared at his blog.