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A Piece of My Mind
May 25, 2011

Dear Provider

JAMA. 2011;305(20):2046-2047. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.702

We are physicians who often commute together to and from work, and like many others we’ve used our car pool time to complete various work-related tasks (like going through the mail). One day, during a particularly lengthy ride, we realized that many of the e-mails, letters, and pamphlets we were receiving bore the salutation “Dear Provider.” Some had modifiers, such as “Health Care Provider,” or “MassHealth Provider,” and even “Stroke Provider.” Typically, they came from administrators—within our department and hospital and from outside agencies and industries—but also increasingly from clinicians referring to other clinicians as providers. We were piqued by these observations and questioned why professionals taking care of patients—physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and other clinicians—were being called providers. After all, teachers are not called “educational providers,” attorneys are not described as “legal services providers,” and US senators are not referred to as “legislative providers.” For clinicians, what are the implications of tacitly accepting provider as the label for our professional identity? Does it really matter what we and others call ourselves?

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