Health Care Providers or Professionals

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Before we delve too much into the problem of lack of effective communication skills of the health care provider (or professional) with the cancer patient and family member. It is helpful to be sure we are talking about the same terms.

Overall I like to use the term health care provider as someone (male or female) who is licensed to prescribe care for the patient. In general in the U. S this involves the following individuals:

  • Physician (MD): a licensed medical practitioner, a person who practices medicine, a person licensed as a medical doctor by the jurisdiction in which he/she is resident to practice the healing arts
  • Doctor of osteopathy (DO): Doctor's degree in Osteopathy which is a system of medicine based on the theory that disturbances in the musculoskeletal system affect other bodily parts, causing many disorders that can be corrected by various manipulative techniques in conjunction with conventional medical, surgical, pharmacological, and other therapeutic procedures.
  • Nurse Practitioner (NP): a registered nurse (RN) who has completed additional courses and specialized training. Nurse practitioners can work with or without the supervision of a physician. They take on additional duties in diagnosis and treatment of patients, and in many states they may write prescriptions. Registered nurse with a master's or doctoral degree.
  • Physician Assistant (PA): A trained, licensed individual who performs tasks that might otherwise be performed by physicians or under the direction of a supervising physician. A health care professional who is trained and licensed to practice medicine with a supervising physician.

These are key terms to remember especially when making appt. If you do not want to be seen by the PA or NP you should state this in the beginning. In some offices the MDs do all the procedures, injections and surgeries and the NPs and PAs can schedule longer time with the patient during a visit. These are the key providers who can provide prescriptions.

There are many other individuals who help run your physician's office. These can include:

Registered Nurse (RN): A nurse who has graduated from a formal program of nursing education (diploma school, associate degree or baccalaureate program) and is licensed by the appropriate state authority. An individual who holds a current license to practice within the scope of professional nursing in at least one jurisdiction of the United States.

Receptionist: A secretary whose main duty is to answer the telephone and receive visitors. The receptionist is an office/administrative support position. The work is usually performed in a waiting area such as a lobby or front office of an organization or business. The title "receptionist" is attributed to the person who is specifically employed by an organization to greet any visitors, patients, or clients.

Secretary: The secretary is an office/administrative support position. The title refers to a person who performs routine, administrative, or personal tasks for a superior. These office employees perform duties such as typing, computer processing, and scheduling for an executive. Secretaries are often hard-working, important members of a business who know its administrative workings better than anyone else. They usually work at desks in offices.

Billing Clerk: Medical Billing Clerks are responsible for compiling and maintaining records of charges for goods and services rendered at any health care facility. Once they calculate the total amount due from a patient, they must prepare invoices to be sent out and ensure prompt payment. Another major responsibility for a medical billing clerk is to contact insurance companies to determine what goods and services will be reimbursed and for how much. Most medical billing clerks use sophisticated computer programs that allow them to calculate charges and print bills in one step. These programs also serve as a safety net because the biller has to verify the information that is entered and correct any errors before the bill is printed and sent to the patient. Other responsibilities may include handling follow-up questions from patients, resolving discrepancies or errors, and ensuring that all billing and accounting records are kept in a safe place. Billing clerks may work part-time or full-time, as well as evenings and weekends depending on the type of employment. Individuals interested in medical billing must be highly organized, pay close attention to details, have good analytical skills, and be able to work well under pressure.

All of these individual's are human beings and are trying to make sure you are provided with the best treatment. We will discusss these individuals and how to improve communication over the next week.

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About the Author


BA, MPH

Steve shares what he learned from his personal experience with cancer.

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