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What's Up, Doc? Uh, You Are My Doctor ... Right?

November 18, 2010 By:
Amy Sutton, JE Feature
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 While undergoing an X-ray, Holly Gage of Bowmansville, Pa., shared details about her medical concerns with the technician and asked questions about the results, only to find out the technician wasn't permitted to answer them.

Situations like these are embarrassing because you've opened up, revealing very personal information to the wrong person, and it's not always clear who you're supposed to talk to, says Gage.

The tech informed her that only her physician could interpret her images and answer questions about the test results, leaving Gage frustrated, annoyed and wondering: Who's who at the doctor's office?

Long gone are the days when all nurses sported identical uniforms, and only physicians wore white coats and scrubs. Today, when visiting your doctor's office, it can be difficult to know with whom you're speaking and what role they play in your care.

Patients often report emerging from medical appointments feeling embarrassed, frustrated and even intimidated.

A 'Who's Who' of Personnel
As they're shuttled from the reception area to the exam room to financial records, patients encounter lots of personnel, but don't seem to know who anyone is or what they do.

After their appointments, they feel clueless about who to call for lab results or to ask follow-up questions.

How can you increase the likelihood that you'll get the answers and care you need? If you were in a grocery store and you weren't certain what type of produce to buy, you wouldn't hesitate to find the produce manager, says Jeffrey Cain, a family physician and spokesperson for the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Your health care team should respect that, added the doctor.

But in a medical office, it often seems like an alphabet soup. It's hard to know who's who. "How do I know who I'm talking to?" is a common question patients have, according to Cain.

Getting to know the office staff pays positive dividends.

So is getting familiarizing yourself with the practice manager or administrator.

"These are general managers, making sure the business operations for the group practice are being performed properly and in an efficient manner. They can be a liaison between a clinician and a patient," says Crystal Taylor, director of survey operations for the Medical Group Management Association.

If you're frustrated by long wait times, fuming over an interaction with a physician or confused about a bill, a practice manager may help you resolve your concerns.

While a nurse can also do the duties of a medical assistant, a nurse can also give clinical advice. In certain situations, such as a wellness check or immunization appointment, the nurse may be the only health care provider you see, says Taylor.

Most licensed practical nurses, or LPNs, have a year of nursing education. In the doctor's office, they perform basic nursing skills. Registered nurses (R.N.s) spend two to four years training, and often specialize in a specific type of patient care. Advanced practice nurses, or APNs, possess a master's degree in nursing, and may work on their own or with doctors.

You may also meet nurse practitioners, or N.P.s, a type of advanced practical nurse.

Does your practice employ a physician's assistant, or P.A.? A P.A. is licensed to practice medicine under a physician's direction.

As a patient, you have the right to know the credentials of the health care professionals responsible for your medical care. But relying on uniform cues often proves misleading.

If you're unsure, remember: Don't be afraid to ask!


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