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Do you really know who is providing your medical care?

by Jeff Dailey

Whether you’re being treated for a minor injury or undergoing major surgery, it’s likely you’ll encounter not just one, but a team of health care professionals. While having multiple professionals working to provide you with the highest quality and safest care eases some fear, it also can cause confusion. When undergoing a surgery or procedure, it is important to truly know and understand who is providing your care.
From physicians with various specialty backgrounds to nurses and assistants, it’s important to understand the credentials of those treating you. The need for more transparent communication across health and medical care providers triggered several pieces of legislation issued to protect patients.
The Truth in Healthcare Marketing Act of 2013 focuses on eliminating misleading or deceptive advertising for health care services. It also requires health care professionals to identify licenses. A congressional committee is currently reviewing the pending federal legislation.
Additionally, recent legislation in Texas requires health care providers to wear badges clearly identifying themselves in the interest of improving patient safety. For example, badges must be clearly labeled and may even be color-coded – physicians may wear green badges, while nurses may wear red badges. Similar legislation has been enacted in 12 other states.
The need to identify the differences in medical qualifications is rooted in the quality and effectiveness of health care. A recent American Medical Association survey revealed 90 percent of respondents said a physician’s additional years of medical education and training, when compared to a nurse, are vital to optimal patient care. Furthermore, 83 percent said they prefer a physician to have primary responsibility for the diagnosis and management of their medical care.
It’s important for patients to know who is involved in providing their care, including the education, training, degree, licensure and clinical experience of each person. Without this essential knowledge, a patient is not well positioned to make the most informed and best decisions for their care.
For example, there are several levels of anesthesia providers – an Anesthesia Care Team consists of a physician anesthesiologist, nurse anesthetists and anesthesiologist assistants. To ensure the most optimal care, a physician anesthesiologist should always oversee other members of the Anesthesia Care Team, according to the American Society of Anesthesiologists.
Physician anesthesiologists have 10,000 to 14,000 hours of specialized medical education and training, while nurse anesthetists have 1,000 to 2,500 hours. In addition, physician anesthesiologists are able to diagnose and respond to any medical complications that may arise suddenly due to their exhaustive education and training.
In an emergency, when seconds count, having a physician anesthesiologist advocate for you or your loved one can make the difference between life and death. “I was caring for a 23-year-old first-time mother,” says Patrick H. Allaire, M.D., a physician anesthesiologist practicing at a 220-bed hospital in Ames, Iowa. “I had just given her an epidural and was still on the ward when her nurse ran into the hall calling for help. I ran back to her side and immediately determined she was having a heart attack.
“Fortunately, I was able to diagnose the multiple complications occurring and treated each quickly,” says Dr. Allaire. “We performed a cesarean section and delivered the baby safely. It remains to this day one of my biggest saves – two lives at once. I am absolutely certain that had I not been immediately present, this story would have a very different and heart-wrenching ending.”
Dr. Allaire recounts several instances where he bumped into his patients at the grocery store or ice cream shop over the years following this life-saving event. Each time, the mother reminded her daughter who Dr. Allaire was, affectionately referring to him as their “guardian angel.”
As a patient, it’s essential to be informed. Knowing who is on your medical team, their respective roles and what training and education they bring to the table ensures you are well prepared to achieve the most optimal outcomes. As a patient, you must feel empowered to ask questions about your providers’ qualifications and experience. Being inquisitive isn’t intrusive; after all, every patient deserves the highest quality and safest medical care.

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