Why do we refer to our doctors as "providers"?

Posted by Hank @jesfactsmon, Oct 8, 2020

I recently have begun to notice how frequently people refer to their doctor, whatever their specialty, as their "provider", as in "my provider gave me this" or my provider suggested that" or whatever. I wondered why many people use this term rather than using the word doctor, or even more pertinently, neurologist, pcp, osteopath, oncologist, etc. So I went to the magic book of answers, aka the internet, to find out what was going on. I was somewhat surprised to find that there were some good articles on the subject.

I will summarize up front what this discussion is really about with a quote from an excellent article from Forbes, linked here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/brucelee/2019/05/05/time-to-stop-labeling-physicians-as-providers/#5a811396118e

Here is the quote:

"The word 'doctor' is over 2,000 years old, aptly derived from the Latin doctus, meaning to teach or instruct. 'Physician' was used traditionally to describe a medical doctor." By contrast, "health care provider" hasn't really been around longer than the term "Happy Meal." Dhand and Carbone further emphasized that "The word 'provider' is a non-specific and nondescript term that confers little meaning." It doesn't really tell patients or anyone what specifically they will be getting. Besides, is the word physician or medical doctor really that difficult to say?
end of quote

In another article, linked here: https://www.nishamehtamd.com/single-post/Why-WOULD-You-Call-a-Physician-a-Provider a doctor says this:

"Ultimately, the most pressing arguments for not calling physicians providers aren’t about ego, though so many physicians are (in my mind, rightfully) demoralized by the term, and physician burnout does have implications on the national level. We should be emphasizing each member of the healthcare team’s strengths, and downplaying a physicians’ level of education does not help the patient. Who does it help? Insurance companies and hospital administrators with a vested monetary interest in cutting physician compensation."

Here is quote from another doctor, from this article: https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/practices/call-a-doctor-a-doctor-provider-persists-jennifer-weiss

"The term was adopted by federal law in the early 1970s and by its definition can include everyone from a doctor of medicine or osteopathy to a nurse practitioner or clinical social worker.
It’s not just doctors who should be bothered by the term, Weiss says, arguing there is nothing “mid-level” about a so-called mid-level provider who works long shifts and takes care of sick patients.
“The whole term (any way you put it) doesn’t work and needs to be changed,” she says. “…Why is anyone on a medical staff still being termed “provider” if we know that titles matter, are used to accurately reflect a person’s role within a company and lead to better overall engagement in the workplace? It’s not only nonsensical, but it’s also detrimental,” she says."

And the last doctor I will quote is from this article: https://suneeldhand.com/2015/09/29/lets-stop-all-this-provider-stuff/

The issue is with the term “Provider” and how a group of highly trained physicians who have in most cases spent well over a decade in training have allowed themselves to be grouped under this umbrella term. Why does this matter? Well, there’s a lot in a name. Can you imagine another group of professionals—whether they be attorneys, accountants or dentists—allowing themselves to be lumped together under terms like “Legal Provider”, “Finance Provider” or “Dental Care Provider”? Unlikely. It’s so non-specific, and is used almost anywhere including referring to “Cable TV providers”, “Electricity providers” or “Telephone providers”! It’s a pattern in life that if you want to lower the power and clout of a group of people, start first by changing what you call them, and replace a respected title with a murky one.

I think it's not helping doctors, patients or the doctor-patient relationship for doctors, whatever their specialty, to be lumped under the term "provider" as if they are simply a drug dispensary person. It seems to me like the term provider is a devaluing term, and the last thing we want our doctors to feel is devalued. A demoralized doctor is a less helpful doctor.

I encourage anyone interested to review some of these articles or others that exist.

Thanks much, Hank

Interested in more discussions like this? Go to the Just Want to Talk group.

Hank @jesfactsmon – Thanks for the articles and deep thinking. It sounds like you are ready to join The Patient Revolution – https://patientrevolution.org/ 🙂



Wow Hank

Here I am at my car dealership waiting for maintenance from my car's "health" provider reading your eye opening post and never ever thinking our Doctors and Nurses are offended by the term provider.
I think we all use that term because the Insurance companies do and that is how questions are asked either in person or on some forms.
When you delve into the meaning of the word I can certainly see their point. We differentiate between the people who maintain and repair our homes (my lawn guy or my AC guy) and we should do the same for everyone.
But, I actually think most of us, in everyday life, refer to our medical "provders" individually as my ENT Doctor or my my Neurologist etc. It is the Insurance companies and the media who use the term medical providers out of necessity as an all encompassing means of conveying information.

Don't want to ramble on but now you have me hating the term and I will be on the lookout for it in my everyday life.

Thanks for the great post

FL Mary


Somewhere along the line the medical community allowed insurance companies to decide payment amounts. Insurance companies make money by collecting premiums, not by paying claims. Insurance companies use profit driven metrics, like categorizing into payment codes and fee schedules. It becomes a short putt to then categorize all medical “professionals” as medical “providers”. Physicians, hospitals, physical therapists and medical professionals of all stripes go along with these metrics, because they want to get paid. There are those that called this an abdication of professional responsibility. There are those that called this the practical reality of the modern era. What we are seeing is the word “provider” in place of the word “professional”. Medicine, like Law and Theology, is a learned profession that survived the Dark Ages. The word “doctor“ has been adopted by physicians and carries a certain meaning. It remains for Medicine to agree or not to agree to adopt whatever other words and whatever other designations that come from outside the medical profession.


I will continue to use the blanket term provider unless I’m specifically talking about my doctor. I will not call my nurse practitioner, PA, or even Pharmacist who very well IS a doctor of pharmacy, Dr. So and So.
Why? They do not have the same training, education, and discipline of practice including SCOPE as a Doctor of Medicine. Others that fall within this category because of education and training including internships, externships, rotations, and post-graduate mandatory work and testing to acquire license and board passing include Doctors of Osteopathy, dentists, doctors of psychiatry although many consider psychiatry a “soft science,” and doctors of forensic medicine.
I’m not being rude, biased, or even selective. My respect of the term in regards to “doctor” in the field of MEDICINE and HEALTHCARE is specific. It is based on education and training to PRACTICE AT THE LEVEL OF A PHYSICIAN— a DOCTOR as is culturally known and expected by the western world.
All other practitioners (providers) support that role and/or the patient on different levels of healthcare. They do not have the same level of training or education coming out of the starting gate as a Doctor Of General Medicine much less any Specialty.

To assume or relay otherwise is to undermine the American Healthcare System in my opinion and weaken its structure. We should not have a healthcare system based on general providers with less training leading the care although that is exactly what we now have.
Our Healthcare System has and should always be the best in the world because it has the best leading it… the most educated provider— the Doctor of Medicine providing the care to the patient. That is becoming a much rarer thing to see today.

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