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.