Thursday, December 1, 2011

The New Language of Medicine

In the October 13, 2011 New England Journal of Medicine there is a Perspective article entitled “The New Language of Medicine.” The authors assess the recent use of the terms “consumer”, “customer,” and “provider.” I urge all physicians to read this very well done essay that we are republishing in the print edition of the December issue of Minnesota Medicine.

Lyle Swenson, M.D.,
2011-2012 MMA President
The article states the importance of the words we use to explain our roles, and how they “set expectations and shape behavior.” While many in the health care industry may try to justify the use of the term provider, this is an all-purpose term that is “deliberately and strikingly generic, designating no specific role or level of expertise.”  It does not begin to capture the complex, and tremendously important role physicians have, and carries no implication of professionalism.
The generic term “provider” suggests that doctors and other health care professionals are interchangeable. The authors state that use of the term “provider” signals that care is a prepackaged commodity that is “provided” to the “consumer,” rather than a personalized service delivered by skilled professionals, tailored to the needs of the individual patient. They conclude that reducing the relationship between physicians and patients to a commercial transaction of buyer and seller ignores the essential psychological, spiritual, and humanistic dimensions of the relationship, which are essential to our profession.
We must take on the responsibility for how our profession is defined. This is a beautiful, clear, and concise discussion of why physicians must reject use of the term provider for our own profession.