High Stakes

Help! Is There a Provider in the House?

Integrated Delivery Network. Co-Morbidity. HCAHPS. Patient Centered Medical Home. EMR. Accountable Care Organization.

Added to this seemingly endless sea of incomprehensible words and acronyms is one that’s becoming more popular lately – one that seems innocuous but is just as confusing as the rest.


To whom am I referring? Do I mean the health system? A doctor? A nurse? A dentist? A chiropractor? Can you say for sure? Even with context, probably not.

Any one of those meanings fits the technical definition, and that’s the first problem – when a word has too many meanings, everyone can mean something different when they say it. And everyone can think something different when they hear it. Therefore, when speaking to consumers, it’s highly unlikely that we’re really being as clear as we’d like to think.

Still, we all use it and – I know – we all started with good intentions. It was inclusive, convenient, even versatile. And there’s something so egalitarian about referring to everyone who provides care on an equal footing with one, broad term. The trouble there, unfortunately, is that those groups of people seldom like being lumped together and do not think of themselves as one cohesive group. That’s the second problem.

In the same way that physicians vow to “first, do no harm”, communicators would do well to “first, be clear… and also try to offend as few people as humanly possible.”

Provider fails on both counts.

So, what good is it?

Sure, I may be having a quixotic moment here, and I’m not sure we’ll ever eliminate it from our vernacular. But, as a first step, let’s try calling a physician, a physician. A hospital, a hospital. And a nurse practitioner… You get the picture.


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