Why “Provider” Is A Bad Word

Why “Provider” Is A Bad Word


Leonard Zwelling

Every year in late August or September, I have an appointment with the audiologist at MD Anderson to test my hearing and assess whether my hearing aids are properly adjusted for my high frequency hearing loss. Too many Jefferson Airplane concerts at the Fillmore East in the 1960’s.

Every year in early March, I go to the Urology Clinic and get a prostate check-up. Putatively, that appointment is with John Davis, the crack urologist who I accompanied to the operating room once to watch him remove a cancerous prostate gland using the Da Vinci robot. I was floored both by the technology and John’s ability to use it. I had no doubt then who would be doing my annual exams. But alas, he usually doesn’t. A nurse practitioner usually does the work and does so thoroughly and professionally. This sort of annual screening does not require a physician’s touch.

Every year in June I get my eyes examined and my retina visualized as well as have my glasses prescription re-calibrated. My vision always seems to get worse—like my hearing. That exam and evaluation is done by a series of people at the office of my optometrist who personally dilates my eyes and examines my retina.

Now I also have a private internist who evaluates me head to toe every October. He’s a medical doctor and a very good one at that. Unfortunately, at my age with my history I also have a gastroenterologist and a cardiologist who I see annually. It takes a village in my case.

Now none of the three people who annually evaluate me at the first of these three sites is a physician. The others are. I would never call any of them providers. That would be an insult.

Every single one of the six individuals who care for me are now termed providers by the insurance and advertising industries. These people are not breadwinners for me. They use their professional training and insight to try to keep me as healthy as they can and I am grateful for every one of them. So grateful that I would never insult them. So why do medical journals, science reporters, and hospital administrators insist on using this derogatory term to describe those who care for patients?

If we are to be charitable, it’s convenient shorthand for medical care givers of all types without more specifically defining them. Yet, each of the people who care for me has gone through long and arduous training to prepare them for the delivery of health care. They should never be lumped with each other and surely those who went through medical school, nursing school, physician assistant training, or other professional education should not be demeaned by the use of the word provider.

I hate it and know of no physician who likes to be called a provider both because the term is squishy (imprecise) and because physicians rightly wish to be distinguished from other people in the health care system.

My audiologist is great. Dr. Davis’ nurse practitioners have all been sterling, competent, and professional. My optometrist is very detail oriented and thorough. My doctors are all great as well and I am very sensitive to my care and very selective about who I see. I am more than satisfied with all of them. In fact, I am so satisfied (meaning the absence of desire) that I would never call any of these people providers. I respect them all too much.

If you respect those who care for you or those physicians and other care givers with whom you work at MD Anderson, don’t call them providers. If they are doctors or nurses, or physician extenders of all kinds respect their diligence. Erase the word provider from your medical vocabulary. Save it for the guy from Amazon who delivers you packages. He’s a provider.

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