An online friend, colleague, and outspoken patient advocate, Trisha Torrey, has an ongoing e-vote about whether people prefer to be called a “patient,” a “consumer,” a “customer,” or some other noun to describe a person who receives healthcare.
My vote is: PATIENT. Here’s why:
Providing medical care is or should be unlike other commercial transactions. The doctor, or other person who gives medical treatment, has a special professional and moral obligation to help the person who’s receiving his or her treatment. This responsibility — to heal, honestly and to the best of one’s ability — overrides any other commitments, or conflicts, between the two. The term “patient” constantly reminds the doctor of the specialness of the relationship. If a person with illness or medical need became a consumer like any other, the relationship — and the doctor’s obligation — would be lessened.
Some might argue that the term “patient” somehow demeans the healthcare receiver. But I don’t agree: From the practicing physician’s perspective, it’s a privilege to have someone trust you with their health, especially if they’re seriously ill. In this context, the term “patient” can reflect a physician’s respect for the person’s integrity, humanity and needs.
*This blog post was originally published at Medical Lessons*