Physician or Provider?
As per longstanding House of Delegates policy, the WSMA
does not use the term provider
to describe its physician members and urges any organization which employs the term
to describe physicians by their proper, professional titles of either
physician or doctor.
Additionally, as the result of policy adopted by the WSMA House of Delegates in 2021, the WSMA is highlighting concerns related to inappropriately using one title, such as “provider,” to group all medical professionals
The Problem with “Provider”
In modern health care settings, there is widespread acceptance of the term
“provider” to describe most types of people working in various health care
professions. Unfortunately, this broad usage conceals the specificity in
the qualifications and level of training for a wide variety of persons
engaged in providing care. As such, using the term “provider” can lead to
misunderstanding and potentially misguided decisions by patients, who
often do not have the knowledge of the differences in qualifications
necessary to gain specific titles.
The American Medical Association has taken strong positions against this
broad usage of “provider,” passing policies in
Affirm that the term physician should be limited to those people that
have a Doctor of Medicine degree or recognized equivalent physician
Urge all physicians to insist on being identified as a physician, to
sign only those professional or medical documents identifying them as
physicians, and to not let the term physician be used by any other
organization or person involved in health care.
Advocate that all references to physicians by government, payers, and
other health care entities involving contracts, advertising, agreements,
published descriptions, and other communications at all times
distinguish between physician, as defined above, and non-physicians and
to discontinue the use of the term provider.
Support requiring that health care entities, when using the term
“provider” in contracts, advertising, and other communications, specify
the type of provider being referred to by using the provider’s
recognized title which details education, training, license status, and
other recognized qualifications; and supports this concept in state and
federal health system reform.
Multiple medical organizations, including the
American Academy of Family Physicians,
American Academy of Emergency Medicine, and
American College of Physicians, have all come out with position papers stating their opposition to the
use of the term provider.
Recommendations for health care communicators
When possible, for clarity and to avoid confusion among professions,
specify and spell out individual professions: e.g., Physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners. When ‘provider’ is used to denote health care organizations, for
clarity and to avoid confusion, specify organization types: e.g. Hospitals, health care systems, and medical practices.