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Misidentification of Medical Professionals: Is There a Doctor in the House?

A recent article on the American Medical Association website reported that 44 percent of hospital patients could not identify their doctors among other hospital employees. The AMA found that many patients looked to the clothing to pick out the doctor and determine authoritative hierarchy in the medical setting. As more doctors opt for casual clothes while doing rounds, patients may mistakenly attribute more medical decision-making power to nurse assistants and orderlies who typically wear scrubs. To add to the confusion, some professionals such as pharmacists and physical and occupational therapists may have doctoral degrees and legally refer to themselves as doctors, even though they are not medical doctors.

The simple choice of clothing can confuse and mislead patients. The AMA’s Truth in Advertising campaign offers model legislation as well as other resources for state governments, health providers and others to ensure that patients understand the level of training, education and licensing of all medical personnel. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants may often work with doctors, even seeing patients for routine or follow-up care in place of the doctor. Medical institution should always make it clear that the doctor has final decision-making authority over a patient’s course of treatment.

Misidentification of medical professionals can have real ramifications when it comes to medical error and resulting legal action. Additional liability can arise if a medical institution did not take reasonable measures to ensure that patients know who to listen to about their medical care. Sometimes miscommunications can occur between medical staff resulting in a patient being told conflicting instructions regarding treatment. Should an injury result from following the medical advice of a non-doctor when the medical institution did not take measure to properly identify the chain of command, additional liability may be imposed. A qualified medical malpractice attorney can help you determine whether misidentification of medical professionals contributed to an injury.

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