M.D. vs. Ph.D.: States push for greater transparency in credentials

Largely prompted by the American Medical Association, a dozen states now have laws that require healthcare providers to be more transparent about their credentials. 

Out of the 25 states that introduced legislation, 12 states have passed regulations in which healthcare professionals must wear ID badges that clearly state their credentials or list their experience in marketing materials, American Medical News reported.

With the expanding role of nonphysician providers and relaxed rules of the traditional white coat, some patients may be confused about whether the person treating them is an M.D. or a physician assistant.

The AMA's "Truth in Advertising" campaign tapped into the hot-button issue by encouraging providers to stay honest about their level of training, education and licensing, from face-to-face encounters with patients to marketing materials.

One point of contention is if whether it is misleading for a nonphysician provider who has a Ph.D., but not an M.D. or D.O., identifies himself as "Dr."

"The title of doctor--for good or for bad--in the medical setting carries such a strong connotation of a physician, and the patient is easily confused," Greg Waddell, vice president of legal affairs for the Louisiana medical society, told Amednews.

For the most part, patients consistently agree that only licensed medical doctors should use the title of "physician," with 91 percent agreeing in 2008, 93 percent in 2010 and 92 percent in 2012, according to earlier AMA surveys. Eighty-four percent of patient respondents also said they prefer a physician to have primary responsibility over their diagnosis and management.

In Utah, for instance, acronyms are not allowed in ads. The 2011 law requires anyone who is not an M.D. or a D.O. to include his or her licensure type in any healthcare services ad, the article noted.

Although the increased regulation might remove ambiguity for patients, critics say the rules are unnecessary, as credentialing safeguards are already in place.

For more information:
- here's the Amednews article
- read the survey (.pdf)