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The title “Doctor” is an anachronism that disrespects patients

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 25 November 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h6240

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Re: The title “Doctor” is an anachronism that disrespects patients

Medical titles enhance rather than inhibit physician-patient communication. Medical titles such as doctor should be retained because they tell the patient succinctly that a medically qualified person is speaking to them.

On many occasions, I have seen elderly patients’ mistake female doctors for nurses. Later, many of these patients were very embarrassed and apologetic. These patients often wish for members of the clinical team to introduce themselves properly.

Patients encounter a bewildering array of various health professionals in hospitals.[1]. No health professional’s role is less important than others. But patients need short, precise, easily understandable and a consistent title for each health professional.[2]. For a medically qualified physician, the title ‘doctor’ is the most appropriate one in a clinical setting. The stressed hospital patients certainly do not need psychobabble and misguided attempts to abolish the clinical hierarchy.[3].

1 Guthrie PS. No more mistaken identity. Am J Nurs 2010;110:26–7. doi:10.1097/01.NAJ.0000368047.11740.76

2 Hickerton BC, Fitzgerald DJ, Perry E, et al. The interpretability of doctor identification badges in UK hospitals: a survey of nurses and patients. BMJ Qual Saf 2014;23:543–7. doi:10.1136/bmjqs-2013-002445

3 Kennedy AG. The title ‘Doctor’ is an anachronism that disrespects patients. BMJ 2015;351:h6240. doi:10.1136/bmj.h6240

Competing interests: No competing interests

29 November 2015
Santhanam Sundar
Consultant Oncologist
Nottingham University Hospitals NHS trust