Are you a customer, client, or a patient?

A new trend in medicine is for healthcare companies, hospitals, and offices to refer to customers and clients rather than patients. Why does this matter?

Patients as customers

A company that refers to customers will likely have some kind of push for customer satisfaction, and enhanced training for their employees. This is not a bad thing - medicine could certainly use some better customer service on many levels. It implies, though, that the person does not necessarily have a problem, usually in an effort to destigmatize the situation.

It’s also an implicit acknowledgement that the people who come see them have a choice, and may make a different choice if they don’t like how they’re treated. For example, you will never hear a person in a hospital bed referred to as a customer. People in the hospital rarely get any kind of choice about the physicians and providers they see, and it’s often exceedingly difficult to change hospitals once you arrive at one.

Patients as clients

Client is a term borrowed from the mental health and wellness industries. It’s a mid-point between a customer and a patient. A client has an issue that needs to be solved - lawyers have clients, for example - but is not necessarily “sick” in the way the word patient implies. Many companies choose to use the term client if they are trying to attract higher end clientele, or if optimizing mostly healthy people is their focus.

Patients as patients

Patient is a term that comes from the Latin word for suffering. Thus, it’s not surprising that companies who are actively trying to attract people to their medical practices are trying so hard to avoid that word these days. Most people don’t think of themselves as a patient, or primarily as a person who suffers. Even people who spend much of their lives in pain often don’t think of themselves this way.

So what’s the bottom line? Does it matter what your medical office calls you? Not really. Mostly it is a reflection of the office’s marketing team, and how the office wants to be perceived. You might find more emphasis on your experience in a place that calls you a customer or client, but it may not have much impact on your medical care or your health

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