Doctor vs. Provider – What Do YOU Call a Physician?

Posted by & filed under Medical Staff Services, Trend Watch.

Throughout my 38-year career I have been respectful and deliberate to reference a physician as “Doctor.” During the past eight years or so I would hear the term “Provider” used more and more frequently when referencing a physician. However, I remained committed to my practice and the respect that I believe physicians deserve: Physician = Doctor, Other Clinicians = Practitioner or Provider. Change moment: This past week I was actually shocked to hear members of the MEC refer to themselves as “Providers.”

So, am I wrong? Is it time for me to change my terminology? I’m open to change for sure but always with a desire to be respectful.

Read on to see what others in the field say about the ordeal! The findings just might surprise you!

Bethany Behrhorst, Marketing

That’s a good question, Donna. Well, I’m no longer an MSP, but I still refer to physicians as “Doctor,” personally. Perhaps because more health care providers are earning terminal degrees and more doctorates in their given fields, there has been a gradual shift to use the blanket terminology? Plus, public policy language might refer to physicians in that way now, since there is even more government involvement in health care? This is all speculation on my part. I think I would still address them as “doctor.” But maybe that’s just me. Referring to them as “provider” or “practitioner” doesn’t take away from their credential, for sure.

Betty Shaw, Credentialing

I agree, for me after all these years in healthcare, “Doctor” is still appropriate. I have some very close friends that are physicians. Even though in private I may not refer to them as doctors, I still do when it comes to any professional conversations. It is an embedded respect!

Mary Dijkstra, Medical Staff Services Manager at Munroe Regional Medical Center

I only use the term ‘Provider’ when it is a mixed group of physicians and other clinicians or a just other clinician. I also use ‘Doctor’ or ‘Physician’ consistently. I believe in my position as head of Medical Staff Services it is not appropriate to call members of the Medical Staff by their first names.

Kelley Yarborough CRNA, LLC

I still believe that Doctor is the proper title

Dr. Mary A. Baker, DHA, CPMSM, CPCS, Healthcare Consultant

I also use the term “provider” when talking to or about a mixed group of practitioners. I also agree with showing respect to physicians, by calling them “doctor” when it is appropriate to do so.

Kathy Forsythe, Executive Assistant/Director Medical Staff Services at Aurora Behavioral Health Systems

I am a lot older than you are but share the same feelings about respect for our doctors. It was nice to hear someone else share something I was beginning to believe was old fashioned! Here at our hospital our business development and business office folks tend to use the term Provider. Most of our docs have been with us for a long time and they still refer to each other as doctor and the same for us in Admin and medical staff office.

L. Jeanney Whitney, CPMSM, CPCS, Manager, Medical Staff Services at St. Luke’s Treasure Valley

I agree with everything you’ve said. It’s a change that is not respectful to the Doctor in my opinion. They are the physician with ultimate responsibility and should be afforded that title.

Sarah Larison, Cottonwood Health Alliance Executive Director/Holton Community Hospital Risk Manager and Medical Staff Coordinator

Our providers (physicians and mid-levels) refer to themselves as providers collectively. I call them Dr. X when speaking with them, but follow their lead in how they address themselves as a provider group.

Lisa Scheetz, CPMSM, CPCS, Manager of Medical Staff Services at IU Health Goshen Hospital

I am hearing the term more widely used. I think it suggests that care is provided by a team approach and that the team consists of mid-levels and physicians. Healthcare is changing and I think we’ll see more and more mid-levels providing the care that traditionally physicians provided. I see “provider” being used as a generic term that will cover both mid-levels and physicians. I will say that when I address a physician, I NEVER call them by their first name. I always call them doctor out of respect. I do hear many others around the hospital calling physicians by their first name and they (the person speaking or the physician) have no issue with it. I guess I’m just old school!

Colette Saxton, Medical Staff Office Coordinator at Southside Regional Medical Center

A few years ago within the facility I was at we began using the word provider to encompass the entire team of healthcare proffesionals caring for our patients. When the providers were adressed individually they were adressed by thier specific profession and by their first name only when the provider insisted that was what they preferred.

Anneliese Pratt, Medical Staff Services Coordinator at WFH – All Saints

We recently had an issue with calling Allied Health Professionals “mid-levels”. They were furious with us and we had to send out a memo to certain admin in our system to be sure to refer to our Allied Health Providers as their title of NP, PA etc or as AHP. The physicians at our facility are split with those that have told me specifically to refer to them as physicians and those that prefer practitioner. I suppose we can’t make everyone happy all the time but as long as we know the specific providers that it does make a difference to I guess we can try to make them happy.

Mark Kenny, Healthcare Technology Sales and Business Development

In my provider-facing positions, I have always used “Doctor” when speaking with physicians and other doctorate holding providers, including nurses. I only used the term provider when speaking very generally about groups and/or populations of them, such as “our referring providers.” I think the term “mid-level” is fading as we now have providers with all different kinds of training from 2 to 8+ years.

I think physicians are thinking of themselves as providers more and more with the emphasis on “providing” service and quality healthcare experiences. I think this is a welcome shift in mindset.

Renee Caldwell, Owner at Medical Provider Enrollment Service

I feel it is respectful and professional to address doctorate educated individuals as such. The use of “provider” or “practitioner” is useful for referencing a situation or rule which applies to physicians, as well as other types of providers, as a group. This is particularly important when writing policies or reference material. If a situation you are addressing only applies to a particular provider group (i.e. physicians or therapists, etc.), then that group name can and should be named specifically. This practice will differentiate whether the idea is applicable to more than one type of practitioner or just physicians.

As far as pleasing people goes, I have been educated by a NP on how her specialty is not allied health. This was before she realized that particular terminology in the situation was being controlled by a particular payer and not me. With times changing so quickly, it’s even more difficult to please everyone all the time. Respectfulness is always a good rule.

2 Responses to “Doctor vs. Provider – What Do YOU Call a Physician?”

  1. Martina Puzanov

    I believe that As long people finish Medical School -they earn the title MD -therefore they should be called as such, nurses are happy to be called nurse and NP and PA’s also. When people will start applying to “Provider schools” or “extender schools” or “midlevel schools” then they will earn their respectable degrees. I can only imagine how my friend will react if his daughter finally made it to “provider school” instead of med school. This entire “provider terminology is enforced on physicians and other health care workers by business management and insurance people in order to diminish autonomy of physicians while still leaving them with the ultimate responsibility for the patient.


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