More often than not, members of the public are confused about which health care providers are physicians and which are not. That uncertainty is expected to increase as the trend toward non-physician providers earning doctorate degrees continues and as demand for services grows with the millions of people gaining insurance under the 2010 health reform law.
Explore this issue:July 2011
Federal legislation offered in the House of Representatives aims to help reduce the confusion by ensuring that providers properly identify themselves in marketing materials. The bill would prohibit health care professionals from making statements or engaging in acts that misrepresent their education, training, degree, licensing or clinical expertise.
The measure, the Healthcare Truth and Transparency Act of 2011, has broad support in the physician community. In March 2011, 67 state and national medical societies sent a letter of support to the bill’s sponsors, Reps. John Sullivan (R-Okla.) and David Scott (D-Ga.).
“Recent studies confirm increasing patient confusion regarding the many types of health care providers, including physicians, technicians, nurses, physician assistants and other allied providers, engaged in providing services in the health care setting,” the letter stated. “Ambiguous provider nomenclature and related advertisements and marketing are exacerbating patient uncertainty.”
Physician supporters of the legislation point to a recently released American Medical Association-sponsored survey of 850 adults. The survey found, for example, that 30 percent of respondents believe audiologists are medical doctors, and only 43 percent correctly identified otolaryngologists as physicians.
The fact that many patients don’t know that otolaryngologists are physicians is “very frightening,” said Paul M. Imber, DO, chairman of the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS) Legislative Representatives Committee and member of the AAO-HNS Board of Governors Executive Committee. “But what is even more of an issue is that a lot of people are out there marketing themselves as doctors, and they are doctors by degree but not physicians. It can be very confusing to the public.”
Truth in Advertising
If passed, the legislation would make such practices a violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act. It would hold all health care providers “to the same truth in advertising standards as every other good or service in the United States,” according to a press release from the office of Rep. Sullivan.
A range of organizations representing mid-level practitioners, including the American Academy of Audiology, oppose the bill. In a February 2011 letter to House lawmakers, these 11 organizations argued that the measure is unnecessary because the issue is “already well regulated by the states and other agencies.”