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Doctor Credentials Must Be Given To Patients

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Doctors should communicate their qualifications and training to patients, and a new law in Maine now requires health care professionals to tell patients their credentials. It is the fourth such law that has been enacted this year. This truth in credentialing requirement is based on the American Medical Association's "Truth in Advertising" model bill. The new law requires that all health care professionals display their education and licensure so patients know who is providing their care. Physicians and non-physicians must wear identification that displays their name, type of license and staff position. When advertising their services, physicians must communicate their licensure status and not promise more than what their education, training and licensure allow.

Maryland, Nevada and Texas have passed similar laws requiring physician credentials disclosure. Consumer groups are concerned by patients, general lack of knowledge of their physicians training and expertise. As medicine becomes more competitive and cost cutting is put in place, some physicians are trying to expand their practices beyond their areas of expertise. Anesthesiologists, who specialize in pain medication, rather than orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons, have begun performing spinal decompression procedures. These procedures have innocuous names such as MILD (Minimally Invasive Lumbar Discectomy) but carry great risk of complication and injury. Similarly, the distinction between board eligible physicians (those physicians who have finished a specialty residency but have not taken or passed the board exam) and board certified physicians often gets blurred and glossed over by physicians.

Truth in Advertising laws for physicians are a step in the right direction to improve patient safety. As economic pressures increase and doctors look to increase revenue, patients must be knowledgeable about their physicians' training and expertise before undergoing treatment. Learning about a physician's lack of expertise after a medical malpractice is a situation best avoided.

11 Comments

I am finding instances in emergency rooms where physician assistants are doing the examination, diagnosis, dictating and reporting and then the M.D. just puts his signature on the report. The patient has no idea that the person who examined them was not even a medical doctor.

What a great idea. I practice law in Arkansas which does not recognize a cause of action for negligent credentialing. We need a similar law to protect patients from unskilled doctors.

Very interesting post. It is becoming more and more common these days for mid-level providers like nurse practitioners and physician assistants to see patients in clinics and ER's without the involvement of a doctor. Many times the patient is not even aware that they are not seeing an actual medical doctor. Looks like this law will help with that.

All states should f0llow Maine's example. Merely displaying credentials does not go far enough; patients don't understand what PGY-1 versus PGY-2 means, for example. Many times, physician assistants (PA's) do a lot of the work of the physicians, and some patients may assume the PA's actually are physicians. Before a patient consents to a procedure, she has a right to know the exact qualifications, board certifications, education and training level of the person performing the procedure. Thank you for blogging about this very important issue!

Thank you for this article. Hopefully, other states will follow suit and enact similar laws. Certainly, it is easier for patients to make better decisions about their health if they have the necessary information to enable them to do so.

It is difficult to conceive of a rationale against a law like this, and I certainly hope it will catch on like wildfire. I wonder how this law will apply to surgeons who are operating with technologically-advanced equipment like da Vinci robots - will they someday be required to, for example, inform patients about the number of similar procedures they have performed or the specific training they have to operate the equipment? It may be routine for sophisticated patients to ask such a question, but for the general public putting that information front-and-center in disclosures could be eye-opening and a critical part of the decision making process. It seems to me that when it comes to giving patients information that could influence their health care choices, more is typically better than less.

I'm all for full disclosure, as required by this law, but let's not dis too much on mid level providers (NPs and PAs). Assuming patient consent, they provide quality care in uncomplicated situations, while keeping the cost of care down.

This legislation is a good starting place but falls short of truly protecting patient safety. Patients also deserve the right to know the extent of a physicians experience and complication rates for a contemplated procedure. I am currently litigating a case involving an ischemic cord infarct due to an excessive period of time when the aorta was cross clamped during surgical repair of a coarctation of the aorta. Discovery revealed that the defendant had little to no experience with the procedure. What a pity the patient wasn't informed of this pre operatively .

Interesting law. In my own experience, I find that despite the fact you go to a doctor or are referred to a specialist, none of those physicians take them time to identify their credentials. Even PA's or RN's never identify themselves as such. They come in, examine or treat you and are done. Most patients will not question the credentials or question the treatment provided as to why it is necessary. Part of this seems to lead to a lot of preventative and unnecessary medicine being practiced. I wish my state had a law like this that required medical treaters to explain who they are and why they are capable of treating a patient.

This is an excellent discussion. When being treated especially in the emergency room, one should always ask and keep track of who is seeing and/or working on them or their loved ones and not assume you know their title and qualifications if that expert does not tell you their expertise. Ask questions like, who are you? Are you a doctor? Are you a specialist? Are you board certified? This will keep you and those around you on their toes and your care and treatment will probably be better too.

Texas is not pro-patient on many issues, much of this is window dressing without teeth. Maine is headed in the right direction.

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